Nigeria has the second largest oil reserves in Africa and is the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the U.S., approximately eight percent of U.S. oil imports, according to the State Department. This rich resource in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea has been a source of internal dissention and attacks on oil and gas platforms, largely by the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigerian Delta (MEND).

According to the 15th edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, Nigeria’s Navy includes two frigates, two Erin’mi-class patrol combatants, two operations patrol craft, three non-operational fast patrol boats, fifteen 25-foot boats, and some auxiliary ships. Last month, the Nigerian Navy acquired the former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter CHASE.

Whether the country assesses its assets are insufficient to deal with the threat or another reason, the Nigerian government has awarded a ten-year contract worth USD$130 million for maritime security. The awardee, Global West Vessel Special Nigeria Limited (GWVSL) will provide platforms for tracking ships and cargo, enforcing regulatory compliance, and surveillance of the Nigerian Maritime Domain. The firm is run by Government Tompolo, a former senior MEND militant.

The background of the awardee aside, the contract is opposed by some in Nigeria who believe that maritime security should rest with the Navy and Coast Guard.

This raises two issues: 1) if any state is unable to secure its waters or its commercial assets, who fills the maritime gap, and 2) if PSCs – or, rather, maritime security companies – fill that need, how should they be vetted?

The past few years have boosted the maritime security industry due in no small part to instability and piracy in the Horn of Africa and the need for shipping companies to hire more armed guards. More companies and countries have gradually, albeit reluctantly, recognized that armed riders may be a necessary addition to the cooperative efforts of state navies. (The Philippines just became the latest country to permit its flagged ships to use maritime security.)

I first interviewed Dominic Mee, CEO of Protection Vessels International, two years ago about maritime security companies offering escort vessels. “We would welcome more regulation…this would help the reputation of the industry.” Just last week, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) announced that its International Accreditation Program will include a three-stage process of due diligence that includes: financial and legal checks, physical verification, and checks on deployed operations (source: 4 February 2012). Such efforts might improve, as Mee said, the reputation of the industry and, more importantly, accountability.

Lieutenant Commander Berube is the co-editor of the recently published “Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century.” These views are his own and not those of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Posted by LCDR Claude Berube, USNR in Maritime Security, Naval Institute, Navy, Piracy

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  • Since Nigeria has control of its waters, it has the right to control those waters as it sees fit. If it chooses to engage a private firm to do the work, it seems like an appropriate choice for a country that does not want to invest in a large navy or coast guard.

    The model is of any government that employs private security guards to watch over important spaces, or that a large private shopping mall that engages private armed security forces to protect its tenants and visitors. In some U.S. states, these guards are empowered by law to issue tickets and apprehend wrong doers.

    Really, it’s not an unreasonable concept. Other examples are state prisons operated by contractors.

    Let’s hope the execution of the idea in Nigeria is innovative and run within legal boundaries that can be enforced by the government.

    As I recall, there was a nearly serious debate about whether the TSA would use a private contract force or government employees. Given the occasional ham-handedness of the TSA, I wonder if a private enterprise would do it better . . .

  • On the other hand, quite some time ago, Somalia tried to go this route with a private contractor operating under the name of Top Cat Marine, which ended up, I think, with a “cease and desist” order from the U.S. State Department.