By George Odok
The Nigerian Navy has called on the nation’s judiciary to ensure a speedy trial of sea pirates and other suspected criminals involved in illegal bunkering activities on the nation’s maritime environment.
Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Adm. Awwal Gambo, made the call while delivering a lecture on his mission and vision for the Nigerian Navy to participants of Naval War College Course 6 on Friday in Calabar.
Gambo said that while the Nigerian Navy and maritime law enforcement agencies had made commendable efforts in the arrest and prosecution of maritime offences, there still existed some loop holes.
He that such loop holes in the nations judicial process was the endless trial periods for maritime crimes which had continued to be exploited by criminals.
According to him, this has led to the prolonged litigations and several abandoned vessels across Nigerian Navy bases.
“The effect of this lengthy trial processes to the Nigerian Navy is evident in instances where out of the 488 vessels arrested between 2015 till date, 234 were handed over to prosecuting agencies.
“Yet, only 52 have been successfully prosecuted, while others were still in the Nigerian Navy custody.
“Beyond the logistic and man power committed to this process, the Nigerian Navy expense enormous resources to preserve and keep over 100 detained vessels afloat,” he said.
He said that due to the difficult operating environment, it was appropriate for the navy to streamline her structure and operations in line with total spectrum maritime strategy.
The CNS said that an appropriate legal framework would be necessary for expeditious prosecution of maritime crime in order to dissuade criminals and lessen burden on the Nigerian Navy on custody of arrested vessels.
He observed that unlike the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), police and other agencies who have the powers to prosecute, the navy was not permitted to prosecute maritime suspects in civil courts.
“The service rely on lawyers from the Ministry of Defence and other security agencies, while retaining services of private lawyers to prosecute maritime criminals.
“The service has also expended almost N300million on services provided by private lawyers at the expense on the provision of other essential infrastructure for the service,” he lamented.
On the provision of naval operations equipment, the CNS lauded the Federal Government’s unprecedented interventions in equipping Nigerian Navy for effective operations.
“From the total spectrum maritime strategy in 2012, a shortfall of eight patrol vessels and about 85 patrol craft exist, even though the projection was done almost 10 years ago.
“The inadequacy has affected the Nigeria Navy capacity to effectively secure the maritime environment; making fleet recapitalisation a top priority and urgent requirement,” he said.