Following the advice of the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, the Nigeria Navy has increased surveillance on the nation’s high seas, using the Falcon Eye system. One major goal is to forestall the spread of the coronavirus (COVID19) through vessels sailing into the country. The mass surveillance system uses over 50 sensors including electro-optic systems, coastal radars and over-the-horizon radars. And has been deployed along the entire coastline, operated from four control and command centers. This Maritime Operational Intelligence System has the capacity to detect, pinpoint and analyze the movement of vessels, thereby providing real time actionable intelligence on activities on the Nigeria coastal line and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The Eastern Regional Control Centre (ERCC) of Falcon Eye was inaugurated in 2017 by Brigadier General Mohammed Babagana Monguno (Ret.), Nigeria’s NSA. The field impact has been huge. For instance, ERCC continues to provide real-time quality information to the Eastern Naval Command. This has resulted in the arrest of pirates, interception of drugs, illegal oil and arms smugglers. And above all, limiting illegal oil bunkering.
In his speech, the NSA revealed that the Flacon Eye has better equipped the Navy in the fight against growing crime. Today, he adds, the maritime surveillance and intelligence capabilities and operations have been transformed.
Recently, the Senate Committee on Navy while on oversight function were briefed about the various measures taken by the Navy to ensure that COVID-19 is prevented from entering the country through its water ways. The Rear-Admiral David Adeniran, the Flag Officer Commanding, explained that the technology is far more economical as it reduces the cost of patrols but remains effective in tackling piracy, smuggling and crude oil theft.
“Every entry point at the command is continuously monitored. We have set up the Eastern Naval Coronavirus Help Center, WhatsApp chat group where everybody is updated, what to do, tips are given there. Then in terms of entry, the moment we have information that any ship is coming into Nigeria, we keep track of that vessel,” said Adeniran. “We use the Falcon Eye to track all vessels movement for the past 30 days, so we know which countries or which waters you have been.” The efforts of the Eastern Naval Command have earned the praise of Senator George Sekibo, the Chairman Senate Committee on Navy. Sekibo acknowledged the multifaceted strategies adopted to protect every Nigerian by the unit, while also pledging to increase the support of the Federal Government for the Nigeria Navy to sustain the current efforts and progress. Most importantly, to make sure new COVID-19 cases are not imported through the waters.
“One of the entry points to the country is through the sea, especially our seaports,” said senator George Sekibo. “Navy’s functions and primary mandate concerns the maritime environment and domain, that means that at every seaport, their presence may be there.”
Still, there is one key issue with the maritime sector: threats, especially from pirates. These criminal threats take many forms and usually require proactive and timely anticipation. After analyzing existing threats, The Office of the National Security Advisor, acquired the Falcon Eye surveillance system to further integrate the maritime domain awareness and related facilities as an enabling tool.
The Falcon Eye has demonstrated several field advantages. Easy to deploy, it reduces the cost of patrols. It provides accurate guide for managing Navy’s resources and directs them to the greatest threats. It gives patrol ships specific focus on real threats. And helps to identify vessels from great distance. Overall, the efficiency of Nigeria’s Navy’s operations, in the past few years, have grown with this innovative technology. The Falcon Eye technology is a game changer and an innovative technology that is impacting in Nigerian waters. In January 2020, the Flag Officer Commanding the Western Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Bamidele Daji revealed that seven vessels, with seven Sri-Lankans, 57 Nigerians and two Ghanaians on board were arrested and the products recovered. This interception was enabled by Falcon Eye Over the Horizon Radar used to track vessels operating illegally with their Automatic Identification System (AIS) off. One of the vessels was MT ZEEBRUGGE carrying over 850 MT of Crude Oil without a permit.
In July 2019, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas noted that its round-the-clock surveillance of the country’s maritime space using the Falcon Eye (FE) facilities, in addition to surface vessels and helicopters, have led to the arrest of over 130 vessels. He made this known during the International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (IMDEC) held in Accra.
“These facilities ensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within our maritime environment, whether fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) or not. The systems also serve as force multipliers, as NN patrols are more mission-oriented with attendant reduction in operational logistic cost. For instance, the Falcon Eye Systems were used to vector NNS UNITY to arrest MV NESO II in October 2018,” he said.
As the lead end-users, the Nigerian Navy has recorded tremendous success with the Falcon Eye project, using it to improve the policing of Nigeria waters and drastically reduce losses of revenue due to illegal activities. The field operational activities of the Navy, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, provides citizens with a real life sample of behind the scenes daily operations to tackle Nigeria’s most pressing maritime security challenges in the South – piracy, oil theft, illegal fishing, smuggling among others.
The office of the National Security Adviser is executing an effort to allocate lands and resources needed to achieve its full completion. The Falcon Eye project (one of the very few of its kind), is considered by some maritime analyst as a major milestone achievement of this administration and its efforts to strengthen Nigeria’s national security.
David Otto, CMAS – Director of Counter Terrorism & Organized Crime at Global Risk International Ltd UK . Email: [email protected]: @ottotgs
Hurso Adam, Ph.D., is a specialist on the Niger Delta environment, conflict and security. Wrote from Abuja – Nigeria.