The Nigerian Navy on Friday took delivery of a new warship, NNS OKPABANA, donated by the United States government as part of efforts to tackle security challenges in Nigeria’s waters and the gulf of guinea.
Ownership of the ship was transferred to Nigeria from the U.S. Coastguard in May 2014.
It was the second ship provided by the U.S. government, following the first, NNS Aradu.
Although the ship was a donation, the Nigerian Navy spent about $8.5 million refurbishing the vessel and emplacing its armaments, the News Agency of Nigeria reported Friday.
Receiving the vessel in Lagos, the Chief of Naval Staff, Usman Jibrin, a Vice Admiral, said the addition of the vessel would boost the navy’s war against maritime crimes.
“It is worthy of note to state that the successes recorded by NNS THUNDER in curtailing threats in our maritime domain and the larger Gulf of Guinea region, with the confidence reposed in our country by the USA, that made it possible to acquire NNS OKPABANA,” Mr. Jibrin said.
“The addition of this ship into the NN fleet will certainly bolster our zeal to end the menace in our maritime domain and the region, as well as support the regional and global effort to eliminate transnational maritime threats.
“This nation has always requested the navy to do more and with this, the government recognises that there must be needed platform for the navy to do its job well.
“The present government headed by President Goodluck Jonathan took the recapitalisation of fleets as a huge challenge and has invested huge funds through the acquisition of two Off-Shore Patrol Vessels (OPV) from China and this one from USA.
“It is hoped that by the time we take delivery of all, the NN will be better for it,’’ Mr. Jibrin said.
The U.S-made vessel came at a time of strained relations between Nigeria and the United States, primarily over the fight against extremist group, Boko Haram.
The Nigerian government accuses the United States of not fully supporting its military effort against the jihadist group, by refusing to sell Nigeria quality weapons needed for strategic operations.
The American government accuses Nigeria of human rights abuses in the war against terrorism, and says its laws prohibit sales of weapons to nations with questionable human rights record.
In 2014, the disagreement led to the cancellation of a training programme by American specialists for Nigerian troops.
It is not clear how the transfer of the ship will help relations between the two nations with regards to Boko Haram, as the new vessel will focus on maritime security and would play little or no role in the terrorism war in Nigeria’s northeast region.
The chief of naval staff said: “For us to be able to do effective maintenance, it is better to co-locate the two ships (OKPABANA and THUNDER) in the same command.
“However, deployment should be based on threat perception. If they are closely related and are operating about the same area, our maintenance team can be co-located where they are and sourcing for spares will be easier.
“We have opened a maintenance channel with the American government such that we can always source for spares.
“Apart from that, our maintenance that has been working on-board THUNDER will be maintained for OKPABANA and we will continue to maintain the channel of spare sourcing to avoid what happened to ARADU,” Mr. Jibrin said.
On the partnership between Nigerian and China on the upgrading of the Port Harcourt shipyard, the naval chief said the Chinese team was expected to be in Nigeria by the first quarter of this year.
Mr. Jibrin said a second locally built ship has been launched, adding that the engineering team would proceed with the fittings and installations of all ancillaries.
He said once that was done, the ship would be put to sea, adding: “NNS ARADU is not the first ship built for Nigeria. All our ships before now were built for NN and to our specification.
“It is because we want to quickly meet with the yearnings of Nigerians that we went into acquisition of these ships.
“A ship is not something you can buy off the shelf. It has gestation period from acquisition to take off. It took us four years for ARADU to be constructed, but these ones we are bringing from China took two years.
“But for the fact that we decided that the second one will be completed at the Naval shipyard, the second one would have also been completed by June,” Mr. Jibrin said.
In his remark, the U.S. Ambassador, James Entwinstle, said both countries were interested in a peaceful, well policed Gulf of Guinea, saying the U.S. support has significantly increased Nigeria’s ability to reach the shared goal.
Mr. Entwinstle, who was represented by the US Consul General, Jeffery Hawkins, said most of Nigeria’s security problems come from the sea.
“Many of the regions’ security challenges come from the sea, and this powerful new naval platform will enhance Nigeria’s ability to control the maritime environment.
“OKPABANA is the first Nigerian vessel to have a Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (R-Mack) system on board.
“This system will link back to the NN wider R-Mack network and expand NN’s ability to track and identify vessels throughout the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
Designed as a high endurance cutter, OKPABANA has a crossing range of 9,600 nautical miles, which is translated at 17,800km at 20 knots.
The ship also has an 80 foot flight deck that is capable of handling helicopters which of course make her an ideal platform for extended patrol mission, as well as a crew capacity of 170 personnel.