BY SEGUN JAMES
The Nigerian Navy has exposed how unscrupulous Nigerians and their foreign collaborators are now converting fishing trawlers into oil tankers for illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta region.
The converted ships, according to the Navy, now venture into the creeks and rivers in the Niger Delta disguised as fishing trawlers to lift stolen crude oil.
But naval patrol team on routine patrol that intercepted such trawlers find stolen crude instead of fish in all the vessels captured.
Parading the crew of one of such vessels in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, the navy raised the alarm that the activity was on the rise in the region.
The authorities of the Nigerian Navy, through the Command Operations Officer, Central Naval Command, Commodore Emmanuel Enemor, disclosed that the confession obtained from the captain of one of the seized vessels showed that fishing trawler were now being converted to motor tanker for the purpose of illegal bunkering.
According to him, the captain of the seized vessel, MV DALAL, caught last week, confessed to the illegal lifting of 120,000 litres of diesel from illegal refineries at the Akassa creeks in the state.
He lamented that the oil thieves had devised new ways of carrying the illegal act without the knowledge of the security operatives by converting fishing trawlers to oil tankers.
Enemor said the naval operatives intercepted the vessel while on patrol off the coast of Brass following suspicions that the ship was loaded with illegal diesel. It was also learnt that the vessel was operated under a registered name and licence of Solabaster Oil and Gas Limited located at 5 Bombay Crescent Apapa, Lagos.
At the time of the arrest, the vessel did not have Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) bunkering permit, ship’s log, Naval headquarters approval and the certificate of the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Pulo Shield.
“Laboratory analysis of the sample of the product from the vessel also indicated that the diesel was of poor quality. There was a need to institute a proper legal action against MV DALAL, and the navy had handed over 10 crew members arrested on board the ship and other exhibits to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),”he said.
The operation officer said the suspects were transferred to EFCC after a brief event at the command’s headquarters on Saturday in Yenagoa, and “the anti-graft agency was expected to carry out further investigations and prosecution of the suspects, while the navy would retain custody of the vessel until the conclusion of the case.
“We are concerned with crude oil theft, illegal refining of stolen crude oil, pipeline vandalism, sea robbery, piracy, kidnapping, hijacking of vessels and attacks on vessels.”
Besides the territorial waters, Exclusive Economic Zone and the high seas, Enemor named other water boundaries that were of concern to the navy in the war against sea crime as Brass River, Nun River and St. Nicholas River. Others are Santa Barbara River, Sambreiro River, Middleton River, Akassa Creek and Furupa community.