Six vessels and 15 oil theft suspects were accosted and handed over to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) for prosecution by the Nigerian Navy on Sunday.
The Executive Officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, Capt. Olusegun Soyemi while speaking during the hand over disclosed that the suspects were arrested over their alleged involvement in illegal bunkering.
Soyemi said that one of the suspects (name withheld) was arrested while discreetly discharging about 108, 000 litres of diesel from a large wooden boat into five vessels without licence.
“On October 20, we got intelligence report about an ongoing illegal bunkering activity at a private jetty situated opposite the busy Slaughter market around Trans-Woji area in Port Harcourt.
“Our troops on arrival at the jetty accosted five vessels and a large wooden boat loading products suspected to be stolen diesel.
“The vessels, MV Denis, MV Faith, MV Lum VII, MV Eliora, and FP Comfort had no approval from naval headquarters for the transaction,” he said.
Soyemi further explained that the prime suspect who doubled as a middleman for two companies fingered in the case had provided useful information during its preliminary investigations.
He said that owners of the vessels were subsequently invited for questioning and had tended their statements, adding that the owners would further be investigated by the NSCDC.
According to him, 20 suspects who were arrested at the jetty had been released due to their non-involvement in the case.
Similarly, Soyemi also handed over a 3,000 metric tonne ship and its 14 crewmembers, which allegedly stood by to steal crude oil from a major pipeline in the state.
“On October 2, troops of NNS Pathfinder impounded a 3,000 metric tonne ship, MT Everest, which anchored at a location (few metres away from a pipeline) without any official reason to anchor there.
“We discovered the vessel which had been in operation since 2007 had no certificate of registry and clearance from the Nigerian Ports Authority; and no single naval approval in all of its operations.
“While examining the vessel, we discovered that the cargo tanks had been emptied and cleaned with hoses connected to the cargo tanks indicating its readiness to load petroleum products,” he said.
Soyemi explained that none of the crewmembers had any certificate and competency to justify them serving aboard the merchant tanker ship.
While urging oil thieves to desist from sabotage of oil and gas installations, he assured Nigerians that the navy would not rest on its oars until illegal bunkering activities were stopped.
Receiving the suspects and vessels, NSCDC Head of Anti-Vandal Unit, Rivers State command, Assistant-Cdr. Steven Morgan said that through and forensic investigation would be carried out.
By Pita Ochai