Concerns mount over NIMASA’s abandoned search, rescue helicopter

A United States Coast Guard .

The fight against piracy and other maritime crimes may have suffered a setback, as the search and rescue helicopter belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has been abandoned at Nigerian Navy yard in Lagos, where it is scheduled for repairs.

Indeed, The Guardian gathered that Nigerian Navy had halted further works on the helicopter, as NIMASA failed to meet the financial obligations for the services.

The Augusta AW 139 Helicopter, with capacity for 10 passengers, including the pilot and co-pilot, was procured to boost Nigeria’s capacity to secure her maritime domain.

The $9million dollar helicopter procured in 2008, was dumped at the Nigerian Navy Air Station, Ojo, after the aircraft developed a major fault about four years ago, while the management of NIMASA has failed to deploy any helicopter for aerial surveillance of the waterways.

It was learnt that work had been suspended for over three year, following NIMASA’s reluctance to procure the necessary equipment for the aircraft repair to continue.

Meanwhile, persistent pirate attacks on Nigerian waters appear unrelenting with over 66 mariners kidnapped off the Niger Delta in 2017.

On December 14, 10 crewmembers of a bulk carrier were kidnapped after an attack that took place around 32 nautical miles south of Brass, Nigeria.

The attack took place on the same day a group of four to five persons in a wooden boat approached and tried to board a general cargo ship underway. The ship was en route some 19 nautical miles south of Brass, Nigeria.

A Maritime Security expert, John Abume, said it was pathetic that under such persistent attacks NIMASA could not deem it fit to repair its helicopter to enhance search and rescue operations.

He lauded the partnership with the Nigerian Navy to secure the waterways, but said the Agency would have intensified efforts on local capacity than giving out a multi-million dollars contract to a foreign firm.

“They are just wasting away our money by awarding $195million
contract to an Israeli firm to patrol our maritime domain; this money would have gone a long way in acquiring and equipping our local hands. For example, the abandoned helicopter was just $9million, showing that two of it can actually be purchased from that contract commitment,” he said.

An operator, who preferred anonymity, revealed that the absence of the Augusta AW 139 helicopter accounts in no small measure to the increasing rate of piracy and kidnappings on Nigeria’s waters.

Head, Corporate Communications, NIMASA Isichei Osamgbi, was unable to comment on the matter, claiming that he was in a meeting as at press time.

The aircraft, if functional, is expected to respond to emergencies like pollution control in areas where other modes of transportation would have taken longer time to address as well as performing reconnaissance duties.

The activities of sea robbers in the nation’s coastal waters had cost the Federal Government billions of dollars with the coast of Bayelsa becoming the hottest spot in the Nigerian maritime domain.

The situation had forced local fishermen and fishing trawler companies to reduce their activities in Nigeria.

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