The operation, which is code-named ‘Operation Tsare Teku’, is coming barely 48 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari issued a strong warning to deal decisively with the trouble makers in the region in the same manner the federal government is tackling the Boko Haram terrorists.
The Navy also indirectly accused former Niger Delta war-lord, Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a Tompolo of masterminding the resurgence in militancy in the Niger Delta.
The Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas who spoke at a press briefing in Abuja, said that he had set up the Task Force Committee (headed by a Commodore) to handle the operation aimed at clearing the nation’s territorial waters of criminals.
Ibas who was represented by the Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP), Nigerian Navy (NN), Rear Adm. Henry Babalola, disclosed that seven Nigerian Naval Ships (NNS) would be involved in the operations.
He said that four had been deployed and they are: NNS Okpabana, NNS Kyanwa, NNS Sagbama, and NNS Andoni, while the remaining three naval ships would join the operation later on. These are NNS Centenary, NNS Burutu, and NNS Zaria.
The CNS said that the nation’s economy was feeling the bite of the piracy and other related criminal activities in the maritime area.
He warned that no serious country would tolerate the sabotage of the vital sectors of its economy and vowed that the region would be cleared of all criminal activities.
“As you are all aware, the jugular of the Nigeria economy is at the maritime area of Niger Delta. So, when we noticed an infringement in that area, it affects the economy of the nation.
“The CNS has inaugurated Operation Tsare Teku to clear the area of these miscreants. It’s to be headed by a Senior Flag Officer in the rank of Commodore,” he said.
Speaking further, Ibas observed that the criminal activities increased after some former Niger Delta militant leaders were declared wanted, in addition to the fact that the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) would soon end.
Even though, the Naval Chief did not mention names, his description of the major suspect behind the criminal activities pointed towards Tompolo, who has been declared wanted by the Federal Government.
The CNS stated that the Navy has measures in place to arrest the situation, having identified the two major hotspots in Brass and Bonny in Bayelsa and Rivers States respectively.
He said: “There is no nation in the world that will allow this to happen in its maritime domain. It’s not as if the Navy has not been doing anything all this while to secure our maritime environment. This is because we have had more ships in the maritime area than any other time. However, since January 14, 2016, we have had increased pirates activities and ship hijacks.
“In every society, we have criminal activities. However, you must note that up until January 11, 2016, we have had zero criminal activities but from January 14, this changed.
“Meanwhile, you are well aware that some persons were declared wanted (Tompolo) and we promised some actions. You know that it was no longer business as usual and coupled with the facts that the Amnesty programme is about winding up. So these criminal elements might have gone back to their activities.”
“The major thing is that the criminal groups have regrouped. We have localised these problems at two major areas, offshore Brass and offshore Bonny. These are two major areas we have been having the challenges,” he said.
The Naval Chief, while noting that Buhari’s pronouncement is for a larger military operations, clarified that the current operation was a purely NN initiative in line with its rules of engagement and scope of activities.
“This is not totally divorced from the matching orders the President gave but it is part of our statutory role. The order from Mr. President is for the whole armed forces. It’s not the kind of blind response to the Presidential pronouncement as we are guarded by rules of engagement,” he clarified.
Ibas also said that the Navy had been up to the task in policing the coastal areas of the country, collaboration with other neighbouring countries and international partners.
He disclosed that the NN recorded one of the biggest naval successes in the rescue of a Naval Ship Maximus, which was hijacked off the Ivoirian coast.
“We have arrested the pirates that hijacked the Maximus. We want to tell you that it was hijacked off the Coast of Cote D’Ivoire and we were alerted by the US and pursued it towards the tail end of Sao Tome & Principe. It was a big success that some countries were amazed that we could pull off such feat,” he said.