By Martin K. N. Kollie
Tamaya 1 on Liberia’s coast
There World has Seven Wonders, but it seems like the sudden harboring of Tamaya 1, an oil tanker vessel on the coast of Liberia may just be the eighth one. The docking of Tamaya 1 in Robertsports, Grand Capemount County with no crew members or passengers onboard remains a mystery of fear and insecurity across Liberia. The mystery surrounding this abandoned orange ship is something no one can easily explain or comprehend, not even personnel of our Coast Guard, Immigration and Police Force. This situation is panicking and points to existing gap within our security sector.
After an on-the-surface investigation conducted by the Ministry of National Defense, particularly the Liberia Coast Guard, there are still huge public doubts and speculations about how Tamaya 1 safely sailed through other countries to the seashore of Liberia. In the mind of any rational being or if common sense is applicable in analyzing this situation, this ship (Tamaya 1) with a gross tonnage of 922 tons could not have landed in Liberia without a crew member or passenger onboard. It is hard to believe that the sudden appearance of this vessel in Liberia is mystical or magical. No number of ghosts could have safely led Tamaya 1 straight to Liberia’s seashore.
There are few questions to ponder over as this mystery remains unexplained since May 4, 2016:
1. How did Tamaya 1 enter Robertsports, Grand Capemount County without the knowledge of the Liberia Maritime Authority, the Liberian Coast Guard, the Bureau of Immigration and Nationalization, the Liberian National Police and local county authorities?
2. Were there crew members or passengers onboard this vessel? If yes, were are they and why did they choose to abandon Tamaya 1? If no, did Tamaya 1 travel alone on deep sea straight to Liberia without a crew or compass?
3. Was Tamaya 1 hijacked by pirates on high sea? Where are the pirates and why did they choose Liberia’s coastal plain for docking? Even if these pirates abandoned Tamaya 1 on high sea, is it possible for the ship to travel alone (probably from Senegal to Liberia) within less than 11 days?
4. What were the last known position and its previous/periodic positions of Tamaya 1 before anchoring in Robertsports, Liberia?
It is germane for this government to find suitable and reliable answers to these queries by launching a comprehensive and systematic investigation into mysterious circumstances leading to the beaching of Tamaya 1 on the coast of Liberia. Anything less than this would create more space for public fear, panic and insecurity. This is a litmus test for Liberia to prove that it has the capacity and capability to take exclusive charge of its national security beyond UNMIL’s departure next month. Failure to pass this test would further expose the weakness of our security sector and render it impotent, unprepared and ill-equipped to take over from UNMIL on June 30, 2016.
Since Tamaya 1 was sailing under a Panama flag, it is important for us to know who are the original and current owners of this abandoned ship since it was built in 1980. According to the AIS data from Marine Traffic website, the last known position of Tamaya 1 was near the shore of Senegal on April 22, 2016 at 10:03:11(UTC) – Lat/Lon: 13.59311 / -17.4507 (UTC) – Speed/Course: 7.1kn / 511° - AIS Source: 2912. The ship was heading towards the Port of Dakar according to Vessel Finder’s website. The site further reveals that Tamaya 1 last received position was 14.49204 N / 17.40914 W on Apr 22, 2016 at 00:50 UTC.
With these basic information about Tamaya 1, this could aid our Joint Security to get at the bottom of this mystery by digging out hidden facts. The government of Liberia through its maritime authority and security apparatus needs to establish a genuine link with the government of Senegal through its maritime authority (especially the Port of Dakar) to release basic bio-data of crew members and passengers aboard Tamaya 1 before its departure from Senegal. The Port of Dakar could also provide other useful information about this abandoned ship
The Liberian government could also partner with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Maritime Organization for West and Central Africa (MOWCA) to uncover more details about Tamaya 1. I am left to wonder why Tamaya 1 didn’t appear mysteriously (without crew members) in Senegal. The reason is that the security architecture of Senegal is sophisticated than Liberia’s. The navy of Senegal also known as ‘Armée de mer’ is one of the best in West Africa because the government of Senegal continues to invest in naval capabilities.
In 2010, the budget of the Senegalese Armed Forces was US$217 million. Sadly, Liberia’s military budget has been declining. The budget of the AFL in 2010/2011 fiscal year was US$15 million. The military budget was drastically reduced to US$12,533,017 in the succeeding fiscal year. The budget of the Armed Forces of Liberia now stands at US$11 million. This is just a drop in the ocean considering our nation’s pressing security demands. I hope the Liberian government and its partners can begin to focus more on security sector reform through realistic budgetary support and strategic investment.
In a 10-page scholarly paper published by ‘The Perspective’ online website on February 16, 2016, I argued that Liberia does not have an army, but at the same time made a strong case for Liberia’s tiny military force to improve in manpower, capacity and capability. In this article titled “A Military of Infancy: Does Liberia really have an Army?”, I proffered dozens of existing security gaps in Liberia with possible remedies to address them. This link provides access to this paper http://www.theperspective.org/2016/0216201601.php and it is my anticipation that the Liberian government can consider some of the issues raised.
The need to immediately reform and overhaul our security sector cannot be over-amplified. The government needs to strengthen its approach, readjust its strategy and redirect a good portion of its resources to security. It is a pity in this century for our nation to not have an air force and a sea force. Even our ground force and tiny Coast Guard unit are still crawling due to limited financial support. The lack of high-tech military technology and equipment such as gunboat, aircraft, ship, submarine, weapons, computers, cameras, detectors, etc. are impeding the effective operations of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
We hope that Tamaya 1 baffling appearance on Liberia’s coast will serve as a turning point to revolutionize our military and improve our security system generally. No country makes concrete democratic gains and cultivates long-lasting peace in the absence of security. The socio-economic and political growth of Liberia depends on a vibrant, decisive and responsive security sector. If the Joint Security of Liberia cannot unravel the mystery surrounding Tamaya 1 since May 4th, then it means that the overall security of the Liberian people is at risk, especially at a time when UNMIL is exiting.
According to preliminary investigative report released by the Ministry of National Defense, Tamaya 1 is a Panamanian registered vessel bearing a Nigerian flag. The report indicated further that Tamaya 1, an oil tanker was gutted by fire, burning the bridge (upper and control centers) with all documents. The investigation established that the wrecked ship, which is listing on the starboard aground, had its hatches opened and contained a mixture of oil and water. The vessel was known to be carrying two lifeboats, but only one was observed during the search by the Liberian Coast Guard.
On Friday, May 13, 2016, a security source confirmed to AFP that one of Tamaya’s two lifeboats had been located 200 kilometres (125 miles) down the coast. The source said “The lifeboat of Tamaya 1 was seen floating on the ocean in Buchanan city with no one onboard”. Without any trace of crew members or passengers, public fear and speculations will continue to increase. In fact, why would anyone chose to burn Tamaya 1 with documents in it? What was the motive of those who perpetrated such act?
Discovering a lifeboat in Buchanan belonging to Tamaya 1 in Robertsports is also something to ponder over. Who took this lifeboat from Robertsports to Buchanan? The mystery of Tamaya 1 continues to enlarging and this has serious security implications. There are speculations already that Tamaya 1 was used as a transporter for terrorists, probably militants of Boko Haram. Some are concluding already that this abandoned vessel was used to ship drugs to Liberia while others are saying that it was used as a carrier to dispose of waste products in Liberia’s territorial waters. Or probably the owners of Tamaya 1 were in search of a free coast to dispose of it. Pundits are assuming that because the owners did not have money to pay crew members, Tamaya 1 was abandoned.
Amidst all these speculations and assumptions, the best way to assuage the fear of the Liberian people is by finding systematic and dependable answers to these two simple questions:
Who and where are the crew members of Tamaya 1?
Who and where are the crew members of Tamaya’s lifeboat found in Buchanan city
If the investigation fails to identify the actual owners and crew members of Tamaya 1, then it clearly suggests that any vessel like Tamaya 1 can sail to Liberia without its crew members being known. This mystery sends a message to all Liberians that the internal and territorial waters of Liberia are unsafe and insecure. However, these are few recommendations to prevent the reoccurrence of similar incident and ensure that the security of the Liberian people is guaranteed:
1. Increase the overall security budget of Liberia by 25% next fiscal period (from US$90.1 million to US$112.6 million). Taking into account existing and potential security challenges, US$90.1 million is too small to allot/appropriate to security and rule of law in Liberia.
2. Recruit, train and equip more coast guards to effectively monitor and secure Liberia’s territorial and internal waters. Reactivating our air force is crucial as well.
3. Increase support (manpower, capacity-building, logistics and incentives) to LNP, BIN, NSA, DEA, CUSTOM, Joint Security Operations, Community Policing and other relevant security agencies.
3. Partner with organizations like IMO, MOWCA, World Bank, IMF, AfDB, EU, ECOWAS countries and other friendly nations to support security sector reform in Liberia.
4. The Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA) needs to train more beach monitors, cadets and seafarers in order to respond to global demands. Strengthen and enforce Liberia’s maritime law.
5. Strengthen laws on immigration and enforce existing statutes. To prevent a lot of illegal immigrants and strange activities in Liberia, shutdown illegal entry points and ensure that our borders are effectively manned.
6. Establish a National Disaster Management and Response Authority (NDMRA) through an act of national legislature.