Hard times await pirates that operate on Nigerian waters, as the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari recommended a life sentence for culprits.
A copy obtained by us, showed the law recommended various punishments for piracy, armed robbery, and other maritime-related offences ranging from life imprisonment to fines of N500 million, N250 million, and 12- 15 years imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the offence.
The law is to prevent and suppress piracy, armed robbery and any other unlawful act against a ship, aircraft, and any other maritime graft, howsoever propelled, including fixed or floating platform.
Maritime piracy remains one of the biggest crimes in the industry, which causes immense financial losses, physical harm to crew members, and is probably the most notorious maritime crime and a major threat to maritime security.
As a result of insecurity in the Nigerian waters, goods are consigned to Nigeria on CIF (Cost Insurance Freight) basis instead of FOB (Free On Board), thus making shipping into the country very expensive.
On the penalties, Section 12, Part two of the law stipulates that: “Any person who commits an act of piracy, armed robbery at sea or any other unlawful act under this Act, whether or not he was armed with a firearm or other weapon during the commission of the offence, shall be liable on conviction to life imprisonment and to a fine of not more than N250,000,000, in addition to the restitution to the owner or forfeiture to the Federal Government of Nigeria of whatever the person has obtained or gained from the commission of the crime.
“Where any person- (a) commits a maritime offence, armed robbery at sea or unlawful act apart from piracy, depending on the nature and severity of the maritime offence and during the commission of the offence was in possession of or had under his control any firearm, explosive, or BRCN weapon, shall be liable on conviction to not less than 15 years imprisonment, in addition to and without prejudice to the restitution to the owner or forfeiture to the Federal Government of Nigeria of whatever property or gains he has obtained from the maritime offence or unlawful act,” it stated.
The law also provides for the establishment of the Piracy and Maritime Offences fund, stating that: “The Agency shall, under the supervision of the minister, establish and maintain a fund to be known as the Piracy and Maritime Offences Fund. The Fund shall be used for the implementation of this Act. There shall be paid and credited to the Fund – such monies as may in each year be approved by the Federal Government for the implementation of the Act.
A maritime Lawyer, Emmanuel Nwagbara, described the signing of the bill into law as a welcome development and urged full implementation to deter criminals on Nigerian waters.
He said: “I have not read what was signed into law, but the overall objective is to provide for a regime to punish pirates and armed robbers on the sea. Before now, we did not have any law that regulated maritime crimes at sea, that is why you find that people were arrested for piracy, but could not be prosecuted because there was no such law.”
Agreeing, the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, said it was a step in the right direction, saying, “It marks the dawn of a great moment for world maritime.”
Dakuku also noted that, “This is not just a victory for NIMASA, but also for all the stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime community. We are determined to continue to deliver on our promise to investors and the international community to ensure an increasingly safer and more secure environment for profitable maritime business. The new law at this very critical stage of our Blue Economy drive is certainly an elixir that will boost our capacity to harness the rich potential of our seas and oceans.”
He thanked the President for “his commitment and passion for measures that will guarantee safety and security on Nigerian waters.”
He also appreciated the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), for their support, and assured that the Agency will continue to work with relevant partners and organisations to achieve its aim of ridding Nigerian waterways and exclusive economic zone of criminal activities.
“No man is an island; hence NIMASA cannot achieve much without the support of other stakeholders. This is the time we all need to work more closely together, so that we don’t give room to criminals to have their way in our maritime domain,” he added.
The new law also vests exclusive jurisdiction for the determination of matters under the Act on the Federal High Court. It empowers relevant authorities mentioned under the Act to seize vessels or aircraft used for maritime crimes anywhere in Nigeria, and in international waters or in the jurisdiction of any country where the ship is reasonably believed to be a pirate-controlled ship or aircraft.