BIRD Aerosystems maritime patrol aircraft demo for NIMASA nets polluting vessel

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A live demonstration of its Airborne Surveillance, Intelligence and Observation (ASIO) maritime solution by Israel’s BIRD Aerosystems for the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) netted a ship illegally discharging pollution off the Nigerian coast.

In May 2021 NIMASA took delivery of the first of two Cessna Citation CJ3 maritime surveillance aircraft as part of its Deep Blue maritime security project, after being fitted with BIRD’s ASIO maritime solution as well as its Mission Management system (MSIS). The ASIO solution includes a search radar and electro-optical/infrared gimbal.

“BIRD’s ASIO Task Force has been successfully operating in Nigeria for over two years, proving its effectiveness and unprecedented achievements in tackling piracy in the Nigerian EEZ and the entire maritime environment, allowing Nigeria to conclude 2022 with zero piracy events in its maritime territory. Recently, the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) has removed Nigeria from the list of countries designated as risk maritime nations. This is a confirmation of the improved global ratings of Security in the Nigerian maritime domain,” BIRD Aerosystems said at the beginning of April.

It explained a recent demonstration was conducted in the presence of the Nigeria Minister of Transportation, Muazu Jaji Sambo, Director General of NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh, and Secretary General International Maritime Organization (IMO), Kitack Lim. The ASIO-equipped aircraft identified a suspicious vessel performing an illegal activity and polluting the sea. “The aircraft quickly identified and performed a discrimination process that enabled the Maritime Security Unit to catch this vessel, stop the pollution, and fine them,” BIRD said.

“With air, land, and sea assets, the NIMASA Deep Blue project is the first integrated maritime security strategy in West and Central Africa, aiming to tackle piracy, sea robbery, and other crimes at sea,” said Tal Spektor, CEO of HLS International, which was awarded the contract for the Deep Blue Project. “Proving effective and successful in ensuring a higher level of safety in the maritime sector in Nigeria, it is projected to attract Foreign Direct Investments to the country with an expected increase in vessels coming in 2023.”

Ronen Factor, Co-CEO and Founder at BIRD Aerosystems, said: “We are honoured to have an essential part of the NIMASA Deep Blue Project, with BIRD’s ASIO maritime patrol aircraft and the MSIS mission management system. Bringing piracy events in the Gulf of Guinea to practically zero, BIRD’s ASIO Task Force delivers an extremely powerful, comprehensive, and flexible maritime patrol solution, ensuring a high level of security.”

Nigeria’s Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure programme, also known as the Deep Blue Project, was launched in June 2021 to advance the security architecture and ensure greater enforcement action in Nigerian waters and beyond.

Deep Blue, initiated in 2017, calls on a wide variety of equipment, including two Special Mission Vessels (the DB Lagos and DB Abuja, built by Shipyard De Hoop in the Netherlands), three AW109 helicopters, 16 Proforce armoured vehicles, two Cessna Citation CJ3 maritime surveillance aircraft, 17 De Haas Maasluis DHM1050 interceptor boats, four Tekever AR3 unmanned aerial vehicles, a C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) Operations Centre and 600 personnel strong Maritime Security Unit (MSU).

The main goals of the project are to prevent illegal activities in Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), enforce maritime regulations, enhance safety of lives at sea, and prevent illegal activities in the inland waterways.

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has been tasked with running the $195 million Deep Blue Project along with the Nigerian military, Police, Department of State Services and other security agencies.

Piracy activity in the Gulf of Guinea has posed a severe threat to seafarers and local communities for over a decade. In 2020, 40% of piracy attacks, and 95 percent of crew kidnappings occurred in the region. However, attacks decreased by nearly 60% in 2021, following the establishment of Deep Blue, and increased international counter-piracy operations in the Gulf.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate activity in the Gulf of Guinea continues to decline, going down from 35 incidents in 2021 to 19 in 2022. Nevertheless, the IMB has cautioned that sustained efforts are still needed to ensure continued safety of seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea region, which remains dangerous as evidenced by the hijacking of the Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker Monjasa Reformer with 16 crew members last weekend 140 miles west of the Republic of Congo’s Port Pointe-Noire. The hijackers abandoned the ship late on Thursday but took some crew members with them.