With the arrival of the US NNS Okpabana ship, it is believed that the Nigerian Navy would be in a better position to tackle maritime threats within the Gulf of Guinea
The arrival of the NNS Okpabana to the Nigerian sea from the United States, US on January 2, has been applauded by both Nigerians and the US as a right step in the fight against piracy and other related maritime crimes in the Nigerian territorial waters. The NNS Okpabana is the second US Coast Guard Cutter and the sixth US Coast Guard ship the US has transferred to the Nigerian Navy through what Sean Hays, lieutenant commander, US Navy Maritime Affairs officer, called the Excess Defense Articles programme. Said to worth $80 million, the Nigerian Navy paid $8.5 million for its overhaul and outfitting prior to sailing to Nigeria.
As Hays explained, the NNS Okpabana is a fully operational war ship that does not require further refurbishment before it is launched into the sea for operation. Commander Rene Laverde, naval attaché, embassy of the US, Abuja, maintained that the ship which operates in deep blue seas, brings in significant enhanced capability, particularly with the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability, R-Mack system onboard, which enables it to monitor out of the immediate environment into several miles away.
The NNS Okpabana is the first Nigerian vessel to have the R-Mack system and with a capability to expand the Nigerian Navy’s ability to track and identify vessels throughout the Gulf of Guinea. This buttresses Hays’s claim that the NNS Okpabana was designed for the deep blue water, open ocean patrolling, enforcing maritime laws, safety regulations as well as enforcing inter-trip obligations both from the host country and the neighbouring countries.
In a statement welcoming the NNS Okpabana into the country, Jeffrey Hawkins, US consul general in Lagos, said the ship represented a significant addition to the Nigerian fleet and to the capability of the Nigerian Navy to secure Nigeria’s waters in the Gulf of Guinea. Hawkins, who noted that the region’s security challenges come from the sea, reiterated that the addition of the ship into the Nigerian Navy fleet would significantly enhance the country’s ability to control the maritime environment. This, he said, is because NNS Okpabana’s cannons, helicopter flight deck, and Special Boat Service personnel stand ready to protect Nigeria and its interests at sea.
Noting that the Nigerian maritime domain is threatened by crude oil theft, unregulated and unreported fishing, smuggling and arms proliferation, sea robbery and piracy, Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin, chief of the naval staff, who, during the reception ceremony, maintained that the arrival of the ship was a demonstration of the determination of the federal government to have a better control of the nation’s waters, said the arrival of the ship was part of the Nigerian Navy’s transformation plan 2010-2020, which includes the renewal of its fleet. He stressed that the successes recorded by the NNS Thunder, the first in the Hamilton-Class High Endurance Cutter to join the Nigerian Navy fleet, in curtailing threats in the maritime domain and the larger Gulf of Guinea region, coupled with the confidence reposed on the country by the US, made the procurement of the ship possible. He expressed optimism that the addition to the Nigerian Navy fleet would not only increase their ability to tackle maritime menace in the Gulf of Guinea but would also assist them to contribute in the global fight against trans-national maritime threats.
With the technical challenges that the NNS Okpabana may pose, there are concerns on whether the Nigerian Navy would be able to maintain the ship. But Hays entertains no such fears. He believes that the nation’s navy is up to the task, given the trainings they have received from their US counterparts. Laverde shares his optimism. He said the technical support offered to the Nigerian Navy by the US, and the trainings the Nigerian Navy is given, are all geared towards ensuring that they understand the communication systems, the weapons system and any other technical expertise they may need to keep the ship in shape. Hays added that one of the mechanisms the US has put in place to ensure a proper maintenance of the ship is the establishment of an organisation called the international working group through which they work with all the countries that operate specific classes of ships and ensure that they get those countries to work together so they could compare notes, ideas and issues as they come up.
In the meantime, Jibrin has assured the Nigerian government that the NNS Okpabana would be “employed effectively and efficiently for the fulfillment of the Nigerian navy’s statutory roles and benefits of all Nigerians and humanity at large.”
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