Nigeria's navy to toughen punishment for collusion with kidnappers

Camillus Eboh and Libby George
·1-min read
FILE PHOTO: A naval officer mans a machine gun on a boat off the Atlantic coast in Nigeri's Bayelsa state

By Camillus Eboh and Libby George

ABUJA/LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria's navy plans to strengthen its measures to root out and punish personnel who collude with kidnappers and criminals, its new naval chief said.

Kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea, which covers 2.3 million sq km and borders some 20 countries, hit a record last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Well-armed, violent pirates operate there out of Nigeria's hard-to-police Delta swamps, and experts say their increasingly bold tactics show that better enforcement is badly needed.

Rear Admiral A.Z. Gambo, who was appointed as Nigeria's naval chief of staff last month, said he would take a "zero tolerance" approach and use a "heavy hand" against those who engaged in criminality.

"The established policies and measures to sanction identified Nigerian Navy personnel that collude with economic saboteurs, drug traffickers/barons, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers shall be overhauled and strengthened," he said in an address last week in Abuja to naval officers and commanders.

Most recently, pirates breached the citadel of a Turkish-crewed container ship in the waters, killing one crew member and kidnapping 15 others.

While foreign navies, such as France, Spain and Italy, patrol the region's international waters, under Nigerian law only its naval personnel can carry arms on vessels within its coastal waters.

A Nigerian court last year made the first convictions under a new anti-piracy law, but kidnappings rose nonetheless.

Shipping trade association BIMCO and Denmark's A.P. Moller Maersk, the world's biggest container line, have called for a coordinated international law enforcement operation in the region. [

(Reporting by Libby George; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Hugh Lawson)