BY Samuel OYADONGHA
The year 2013 was an eventful one for the Joint Task Force codenamed Operation Pulo Shield, a special security outfit saddled with the responsibility of stemming crude oil theft, pipeline vandalism and other crimes against the vast economic interests in the Niger Delta in the troubled region. The out going Commander of the JTF, Major General Bata Debiro in an interview in Yenagoa, relieved the successes of the outfit in the out gone year as well as its challenges. Excerpts:
How would you describe the performance of the JTF in 2013?
The mandate of the JTF as you are aware, is to stop illegal oil bunkering activities in the upstream sector, protect the oil and gas facilities and installations and ensure a secure environment for these and other lawful activities. To achieve this mandate, the JTF conducted series of operations on land, waterways and air against illegal activities of oil thieves bedevilling the oil and gas industry.
In the period under review, the JTF successfully conducted several land, maritime and air operations against illegal oil bunkering and refining activities, pipeline vandalism, armed banditry and sea robbery. The Task Force also conducted anti-kidnapping operations, cordon, search and destruction of re-emerging militant camps. It equally, provided security to oil and gas facilities in the region to sustain their production.
Consequently, the general security situation within JTF‚Äôs Area of Responsibility, has been relatively calm. Although operating in an extremely challenging terrain, the JTF has remained determined and committed to achieving its mandate.
But illegal bunkering/illegal refinery activities have remained unabated in the region
The JTF anti-illegal oil bunkering/refining operations in the year, led to the arrest of numerous suspects, the impounding of several barges, vessels, trucks and other tools used to perpetrate the crime and the outright destruction of illegal refineries. These operations like many others were achieved through constant patrols based on credible intelligence obtained from various sources particularly higher Headquarters, other components of the JTF, informants and other good citizens.
During the period under review, the JTF conducted a total of 1,025 anti-illegal oil bunkering patrols, while over 1,951 illegal refineries have been destroyed. Also scuttled were 81 barges, 1,117 Cotonou boats, 82 tanker trucks, 1,873 Surface tanks and 1,857 suspects were arrested. Additionally, 39, 760 drums of illegally refined products, 570 pumping machines and 75 outboard motor engines used as apparatus to facilitate oil theft were seized and destroyed. Forty six vessels of various sizes and capacities were also arrested during the period under review.
Although limited incidents of pipeline vandalism still occur in the region, JTF operations has drastically reduced their occurrence. Those that still occur are mostly in remote areas of the creeks carried out at night between 2300hrs ‚Äì 0300hrs by criminal gangs who take advantage of the JTF‚Äôs limited accessibility of the difficult terrain.
The JTF provides full security on Port Harcourt‚ÄìAba pipeline, which has succeeded in reducing the incidents of vandalism on that axis. The JTF operations therefore enabled the PPMC to re-open the Port Harcourt ‚Äì Aba Pipeline which had been closed for years. Similarly, the presence of the JTF had encouraged the PPMC to consider the re-opening of the Aba ‚Äì Enugu Pipeline to be extended later from Enugu to Makurdi. The JTF has in addition to physical protection of the oil facilities, intensified patrols of the pipelines in order to forestall acts of pipeline vandalism.
The JTF provides physical security to oil facilities. Critical oil platforms have troops deployed on them round the clock to ensure their protection. These efforts have assisted in sustaining the operations of these companies and lowering of total deferred production of the crude oil. However, the situation can be improved upon, if the oil companies are encouraged to adopt international best practices by installing ICT based sensors within their pipelines to provide early warning of acts of sabotage.
Aside the call within the security circle for the oil companies to install ICT based facilities as first line of defence against acts of sabotage, what other strategy is being deployed to contain the situation‚Ä¶
Yes,¬† Ground trotting patrols, is an inch-by-inch foot patrol along the pipelines in the creeks and swamps. This was used to check the activities of vandals on the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) pipeline.