October 28, 2021

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In search of a safer maritime environment

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The cash from Nigeria’s maritime corridor is regularly reduced by the activities of pirates and other criminals. President Muhammadu Buhari put the financial loss at a whopping $26.3 billion. The Federal Government has now deployed a technology to curb the loss, writes OKODILI NDIDI

It sounds too good to be true and raises a poser: How can the Nigerian Navy control the country’s vast maritime domains just at the push of a button? With the Falcon Eye, a cutting edge technology, the Navy insists this is easy. It says oil theft, piracy, illegal bunkering, kidnapping, maritime terrorism and illegal fishing, among other criminal activities, are about to be fought to a standstill. And these criminals will no longer have the ability to drain the massive benefits in the maritime environment.

Falcon Eye Project, a state-of-the-art surveillance facility that incorporates various sensors located along the nation’s enormous coastline will generate a real-time situational awareness of the activities within Nigeria’s maritime environment.

The National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), said the project was a child of necessity.

“The project was borne out of the necessity to combat the myriad of security challenges within the maritime sector, ranging from “cases of kidnapping of oil workers, sea robbery/piracy, incessant problems of crude oil theft, illegal bunkering, hostage-taking, maritime terrorism amongst a host of other criminal activities perpetrated within the maritime domain,” Gen. Monguno said.

Giving more insight into the project, which was started in 2014, the NSA said the Falcon Eye was designed to provide Nigeria with an effective surveillance capability of her entire maritime domain. The facility provides total radar coverage of Nigeria’s maritime environment. The Falcon Eye is a state-of-the-art surveillance facility that incorporates various sensors located along the nation’s enormous coastline, such as radars, long-range Electro-Optic Systems with thermal or night vision capability, Automatic Identification System Receivers, Weather Stations and marine Very High-Frequency Radios for communication. The integration of these sensors into the Falcon Eye system generates a real-time situational awareness of the activities within the nation’s maritime environment.

Gen. Monguno hailed President Muhamamadu Buhari for completing the project. According to him, Nigerian Navy personnel have been trained to man the facility.

Chief of the Naval Staff Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo said the major significance of the facility is the need for a national maritime security architecture that would leverage modern technology to enhance the safeguard of the immense hydrocarbon and other mineral resources in the nation’s maritime domain.

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“Nigeria’s maritime environment is strategic to her national survival, prosperity and the sustenance of her pre-eminence position among the comity of nations. Unfortunately, this environment also experiences a myriad of illegal activities owning to the large maritime space in relation to the available policing and logistic capabilities.

“This threat situation precipitated the need for a robust Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) system necessitating the establishment of the Falcon Eye Alignment by the Office of the National Security Adviser in 2015,” he said.

Enumerating the advantages of the piece of technology, Gambo explained that “the Falcon Eye System incorporates surveillance and intelligence capabilities that enable decision making on shipping activities, maritime safety and violation of maritime laws. The system combines various sensors such as Coastal Radars, Over the Horizon Radars, Cameras to generate a comprehensive picture of the Nigerian maritime environment.

“In particular, the project includes the deployment of 5 Over the Horizon Radars to cover the entire nation’s coastline and up to 200m (370.4 km) seaward. This translates to complete coverage of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Monitoring and analysis of data from the various sensors sites strategically located along the nation’s coastline are facilitated through the four Falcon Eye Centres in Abuja, Lagos, Yenagoa and Calabar.

“Pertinently, the coverage of the satellite aspect of the Automatic Identification System of the Falcon Eye Alignment extends beyond the Nigerian waters to Cote D’Ivoire at the West, Cameroun at the East, Angola at the Southeast. This significant capability enhances the maritime projection capabilities of the country and enables the Nigerian Navy to maintain strategic partnership in information sharing, especially with the navies of the Gulf of Guinea nations, as well as the Indian and Italian navies.

“In the domestic arena, the Falcon Eye Alignment collaborates with various maritime regulatory agencies such as the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Immigration Service and other sister Services. Accordingly, the Nigerian Ports Authority has deployed its staff who has since resumed at the Falcon Eye Main Control Centre.

“This collaboration would not only foster synergy but also promotes a holistic understanding of the activities in Nigeria’s maritime domain which is crucial to the commonality of efforts by all stakeholders towards curbing maritime crimes.”

Giving further insight on the gains of the facility, the Chief of Naval Staff disclosed that, “the Nigerian Navy has recorded successes in her fight against illegalities at sea through the employment of the Falcon Eye facility. From 2016 to date, the intelligence generated from the Falcon Eye System led to the seizure of over 300,000 bags of foreign rice, valued at N9 billion and the arrest of over 500 suspects. It also led to the arrest of 70 oil tankers laden with stolen products valued at over one billion dollars.

“Furthermore, it led to the arrest of over 30 vessels engaged in Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing, as well as the arrest of over 50 pirates. Also, the system is a force multiplier that helps the Nigerian Navy to optimize its limited resources in terms of limited available platforms and logistics requirements towards intelligently policing the nation’s vast maritime space.

“The Falcon Eye System is indeed valuable surveillance and intelligence asset for the Nigerian Navy and the Service is better positioned to guarantee maritime security to the outermost limits of the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This will, in turn, boost Nigeria’s oil and gas production.”

While inaugurating the facility, Buhari lamented the huge loss of revenue to maritime criminality. The President put the loss at a whopping $26.3 billion annually, a development, he said, has become harmful to the nation’s economy and the safety of citizens.

According to the President, the country’s hydrocarbon resources which are largely domiciled in the maritime environment remain the mainstay of the nation’s economy, adding that it accounts for 55% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 95% of export earnings and about 70% of government revenue.

Buhari noted that given Nigeria’s economic aspirations and commitment to international trade, ensuring the security of shipping lanes within and approximate to Nigerian waters is in the national interest.

According to the President, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, “the Maritime industry occupies a prominent position in the matrix of our vital economic interests and it encompasses activities ranging from fishing and resource exploration to marine research and shipping among other endeavours. Of all these activities shipping stands out as a critical link in Nigeria’s international trade engagements because it is the cheapest and the most efficient means of moving large volumes of goods.

“Given our economic aspirations and our commitment to international trade, ensuring the security of shipping lanes within and proximate to our waters is in our national interest.”

The President said: “Falcon Eye Project is a state-of-the-art surveillance facility that incorporates various sensors located along the nation’s enormous coastline, such as Radars, long-range Electro-Optic Systems with thermal or night vision capability, Automatic Identification System Receivers, Weather Stations and marine Very High-Frequency Radios for communication.

“The integration of these sensors into the Falcon Eye system generates a real-time situational awareness of the activities within our maritime environment for further analysis.”