Are banks aiding piracy and hostage taking?

In spite of their spirited defence to the contrary, allegations of banks' complicity in facilitating payment of ransoms to hostage takers in Nigeria, including pirates, re-echoed at the public hearing of the Inter-Agency Maritime Security Task Force on Acts of Illegalities in Nigeria Waters (IAMSTF), held at the NNS Quorra, Auditorium, Naval Base, Apapa, Lagos.

In a paper, the President of the Nigerian Trawler Operators Association (NITOA), Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi, painted a sordid picture that has become the lot of the association's membership, owing to the scourge of piracy and hostage takers, whose nefarious activities are allegedly facilitated by banks that provide avenues for ransom receipts.

From November 2002 to 2008, Nigerian trawelers, according to Orakwusi, have incurred losses of over N3 billion, due to high incidents of piracy in the country.

These sum includes the entitlements paid to families of those who lost their lives at sea as a result of the attacks and ransoms paid for those kidnapped by the pirates.

The NITOA boss explained that the hijackers frequently seize their vessels, threatening to blow then up if ransom is not paid.

The trend, which, according to her, started out as ordinary stealing some years back has since turned into Nigeria's greatest problem.

Orakwusi said that as a result of the huge ransoms trawler operators in Nigerian waters pay to secure the release of their vessels or personnel seized by hijackers, the hijackers routinely order that these monies be deposited in their bank accounts.

A visibly-disturbed Orakwusi lamented that these financial institutions, which is a bid to promote accountability in the sector, demand utility bills as part of the requirements for opening accounts, have, however, failed woefully in tracing the owners of the accounts where these ransoms are lodged.

The NITOA chieftain was saddened by the mental torture the trawler operators contend with while negotiating with the pirates, noting that the association had recorded losses of 184 lives from the attacks of the sea robbers.

"We have to negotiate because, at several occasion, they kill our wokers. Last quarter of 2007 to 2008, we recorded over 20 attacks on vessels, with loss of over 10 lives. We need help to survive in the business," Orakwusi.

On its mandate, the IAMSTF chairman, Commodore Dele Ezeoba, said the taskforce was constituted to check illegal activities, including security breaches in the nation's coastal waters.

Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media. (