Segun James and Chiemelie Ezeobi
The Nigerian Navy Tuesday decried the increasing presence of foreigners in the illegal bunkering and refining of crude oil in the Niger Delta, saying the trend was worrisome.
The public outcry by the navy followed the handing over of 61 suspected oil thieves, which included a Ghanaian and Camerounian, to the Bayelsa State Police Command for further investigation and prosecution.
Following the increasing presence of foreigners in illegal bunkering, the authorities of the Nigerian Navy and the office of the Consular General of the United States to Nigeria, yesterday reaffirmed their commitment to tackling insecurity in the maritime domain, especially in the Gulf of Guinea.
But speaking during the handing over of the suspects, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Central Naval Command, Rear Admiral Sidi-Ali Usman, disclosed that the seven vessels impounded by the Navy during the arrest of the suspects would remain in the custody of the navy.
He also said the navy handed over another suspect, Mr. Abantuwe Potter, who was arrested for allegedly being in possession of firearms and protecting of illegal refineries in the creeks of the Niger Delta.
Represented by the Command Operations Officer (COO), Commodore Emmanuel Enemor, the FOC while parading and handing over the suspects to the state Police Commissioner, Mr. Hilary Okpara, who was represented by Mr. Chris Nwaogu, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), said the impounded vessels include MT Wharf Dale, MV Henty, MV Tobiloba, MT Emmanuel, MT Pauline, MV. S &T VICTORIA (Tug) and a large wooden boat, which were arrested between July and September this year by the patrol team of the naval Forward Operating Base, NSS Formoso, at Egweama, Brass at various locations with stolen crude.
According to him, MT Wharf Dale vessel with an all Nigerian crew of six was arrested on July 6 for dubious intent to load stolen crude oil. All the crew members of MT Wharf Dale, including the Captain had no identification cards at the time of the arrest.
‚ÄúMT Wharf Dale had no ship log thereby making it difficult for her voyage itinerary to be more properly established. MT Wharf Dale was engaged in oil transport without flag, registration, Call-sign and International Maritime Organisation number, thereby constituting gross violations of international shipping regulations.”
He said MV Henty, which had a crew of five Nigerians and one Ghanaian was arrested on July 25 for alleged illegal conversion from fishing trawler to a bunkering vessel with 132,000 litres of illegally refined diesel.
‚ÄúMT Pauline was arrested with a 10-man crew of nine Nigerians and a Camerounian on September 6 off Nun River for being loaded with 360,000 litres of illegally refined diesel without relevant documents for the voyage as well as the product on board. MV Tobiloba was arrested with all Nigerian crew of seven on August 24, at Akassa as the vessel was loaded with 100,000 litres of illegal refined diesel. The said vessel did not possess relevant documents such as licenses and permits for her voyage,‚Äù he said.
The navy also noted that the Cotonou boat with an all Nigerian crew of 16 persons was also arrested by its men on September 15, off St. Nicholas River entrance for allegedly attempting to siphon stolen crude oil from MT LINA into about 386 drums on board the boat.
In a related development, the navy and the US Consulate reaffirmed their commitment during a courtesy visit by the US Consular General, Mr. Jeffrey Hawkins, to the FOC, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, at the naval headquarters in Apapa, Lagos.
While commending the support and cooperation received from the US, in terms of training, Ibas said the support which has been outstanding, has further boosted the operational efficiency of the navy, decrying the slow pace of prosecution in Nigeria, which had made the naval jetties to be congested with vessels arrested for illegal activities, due to the incessant prolonged period of litigation.√¢‚Ç¨¬®√¢‚Ç¨¬®Citing the forthcoming multi-national African Winds Exercise, Ibas said the event, which is scheduled to take place in October this year with the support of the US, would further boost the capacity building of the NN.
Meanwhile, Ibas has said the navy has continued to wage war against all forms of illegalities on the waterways to make the maritime environment safe for economic activities.
He said the war has led to the arrest of many vessels suspected to be involved in illegal deals, adding that although the process to justice is slow-paced, it would not deter the command from carrying out its constitutional duties of policing its area of responsibility to ward off economic saboteurs.
In response, the Consular General, who was represented by the Chief Air and Maritime Security Branch of US-Africa Command (US AFRICOM), Captain Philip Heyl (Rtd), said the US would continue to assist the NN in the area of training.
He pointed out that the US acknowledges the role played by the NN the Gulf of Guinea and as such would continue to partner with the service for better service delivery.
The US team, which comprised senior officers of the consulate later left the Western Naval Command for the Headquarters of the Naval Training Command (NAVTRAC), where a similar visit was paid on the command‚Äôs FOC, Rear Admiral Isaac Ajuonu.