Fishing threatened in Rivers as bandits take over waterways

Deepwater and artisanal fishing in the coastal region of Rivers State may soon go extinct as a result of the activities of sea pirates and other criminal elements on the waterways. Environmental pollution, occasioned by the activities of illegal oil bunkers, is also hampering artisanal and deepwater fishing. Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that in recent times, the criminal activities of sea pirates in the riverine areas of Bonny, Abonnema, Billie, Andoni , Opopo, Degema and Soku, where most of the deepwater and artisanal fishing takes place, have been on the increase. Last year, boat operators in the state embarked on a three-day warning strike to protest their bitter experiences in the hands of sea pirates. This came shortly after two persons were shot dead along the Degema waterway, en-route Port Harcourt. Deepwater and artisanal fishing in the riverine parts of the state is becoming a risky venture. Also, the activities of illegal oil refineries, otherwise known as ‘Kpo Fire,’ have made fishing business an uninterested venture. On a daily basis, artisanal fish farmers are attacked by sea pirates while their catches are taken away.

The national president of the Farmers Association of Oil Producing States (FARMOPS), Mr Photo Agala, said attacks by sea pirates on deepwater and artisanal fishermen and women were more rampant in Rivers State than other states in the South-South region. He said both deepwater artisanal fishermen and women were exposed to attacks by heavily armed bandits, who, he said attacked them and carted away their catches and fishing gears. He said women who were mostly engaged in seafood fishing, such as periwinkle and others, were raped and molested by the armed bandits. He added that the attacks on fish farmers, as well as pollution caused by artisanal refinery operators, were factors responsible for the low production of fish in the state. “Many factors are responsible for low the production of fish in the state. We are into various types of fishing. We have deepwater fishing, which involves trawlers. There is also artisanal fishing, which involves ordinary fishermen and women. “Oil spillage caused by illegal bunkering is more deadly than the insecurity in the waterways. The insecurity on the waterways has put fears on those involved in fishing business. The pirates hijack and corner the fishermen and women coming back from fishing expedition, attack them and take away all their catches. “These criminals rape women and subject them to all kinds of inhuman abuses and molestation. They attack artisanal fishermen, take away all their catches, fishing gears; and in most cases, they take away the outboard engine. “They also attack deepwater fishermen and steal all their harvests. The waterways in Rivers State are so porous that it is very difficult to police.

In Akwa Ibom, the Nigerian Navy patrols all the waterways and ward off sea pirates that might contemplate attacking those that are in fishing business,’’ he said. He said fishermen and women were not usually armed, and called on security agencies to carry out effective policing of the waterways. He called on the state government to ensure that the waterways are protected, while those involved in oil bunkering should be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law. The leader of a socio-cultural pressure group in Rivers State, Kengema Unity Forum (KUF), High Chief Sobomabo Jackrich, expressed worry over the recent security situation along the waterways and some communities in Kalabari Kingdom. High Chief Jackrich, popularly known as Egberipapa, who stated this at a stakeholders meeting of the KUF in Usokun Degema, alleged that some criminal elements had taken over Oluama community in Asari Toru Local Government Area as their hideout, from where they unleash mayhem on boat operators, fishermen and women, as well as passengers along the waterways. He dissociated himself and members of his group from the criminal activities in the area. He said, “Few weeks ago, we have been recording insecurity in our waterways. Boys hide in Oluama community; from there they go out to perpetuate criminal activities and sea piracy in our waterways.

“That is why you people are the witnesses here. I am dissociating myself from this evil act. I am not aware of any of them. I am not part of it and I don’t think anyone around me is. I am not into any criminal activity. All my activities are made open; that is why I keep security with me. “Whoever is involved in any criminal act will face it by himself because I don’t have any gun to give to any youth.’’ He called on the Inspector General of Police and heads of other security agencies to work in synergy with the Rivers State Government to ensure that the criminals are fished out from their hideouts in Oluama community and their sponsors exposed. The police public relations officer, Rivers State command, Nnamdi Omoni, told our correspondent that the command is strategising to tackle all manners of crimes on the waterways.


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