The Nigerian Navy has stepped up the fight against the twin menace of crude oil theft and illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region.
In the past six months, the navy has been up in arms against the perpetrators of these economic saboteurs who could go any length to shortchange the nation for selfish monetary gains through their criminal activities.
During a recent operation on Benneth Island and Yeye Creek by Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta led by its commander, Commodore Ibrahim Dewu, the navy arrested many illegal oil bunkerers, and destroyed several illegal refineries in the area.
Some journalists, who witnessed the operation, saw how owners of refineries connect pipes to pipelines carrying crude oil along the Focados waters into huge tanks from where the product is `cooked.’
The illegal refinery site at Benett Island occupies over 10 hectares which is three times bigger than the one at Yeye area.
On Benett Island, the navy found over 50 illegal production sites just few kilometres away from the same pipeline operated by the nation’s state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Dewu showed journalists newly-dug holes leading to a shiny valve attached to the pipeline, lying about a metre underground.
He said that big metal tanks connected to pipes run several kilometres to where `cooked’ products are discharged into boats.
“Such is the mammoth task confronting the navy who has vowed to end rampant fuel theft. The practice is depriving the government of badly needed tax revenue.
“Small-time thieves, organised crime gangs and villagers all have a hand in the trade.“The crudest operators hack into pipelines to siphon crude, often at night in rural communities. They then resell it to shady persons who in turn export,” he added.
Dewu said the base seized six ships and 80 large wooden boats used by criminals to siphon crude oil from January till date.
The seized vessels, he noted are: MT AYSU, MT INTERIM, MV MAMA ELIZABETH 1, MT MIRACLE, MV NIPAL and SD WATERMAN.
He said that the base also destroyed 63 illegal refineries and 1,984 storage facilities, containing 8,610MT of stolen crude as well as 5,602MT of illegally refined AGO.
“The base has recorded tremendous achievements in the last six months. These are in the areas of operations, infrastructural upgrade and Civil-Military Relations (CMR).
“The base has sustained patrols along creeks and waterways in its Area of Operations (AOO).
“The patrols resulted in the arrest of several suspects, destruction of numerous illegal refineries, stolen crude and illegally refined products,” he said.
He said between March 14 and May 4, the base conducted three swamp buggy operations in Iwhrekreka, Otovwodo and Otumara communities in Ughelli South and Warri South local government areas of Delta state.
“At present, the base is engaged in two swamp buggy operations at Yeye and Benneth Island in Burutu and Warri South LGAs of Delta respectively.
The swamp buggy operations led to the destruction of various illegal refinery sites that would make it extremely difficult to reactivate.
“In the same vein, the swamp buggy operations have so far led to the destruction of about 63 illegal refinery sites.’’
He said that the ongoing swamp buggy operation was aimed at flushing out militants along the trans-Focados pipeline in Delta.
In this swamp buggy operation, over 10 hectares at Benett Island used for illegal refining of petroleum products by suspected militants were destroyed by the navy.
Operation swamp buggy, according to the commander, is to keep the trans-Focados area safe for business and to also allow foreign ships come to Nigeria to do business.
The NNS PATHFINDER is also tackling oil thieves at Bakanna creeks in Port Harcourt, Rivers.
A convoy with five boats, led journalists for on-the-spot assessment of an illegal refinery camp destroyed by the navy.
The operation was led by the Commander, NNS PATHFINDER, Commodore Sam Bora, in company of Commodore Suleiman Dahun and Commander Muritala Rogo.It was gathered that the Bakana creeks is a notorious hideout for the syndicate, engaged in illegal refining of petroleum products.While patrolling the creeks, the naval operatives arrested 19 suspected oil thieves, including two women and recovered five boats laden with 168 drums of 300 litres each of AGO.Bora said that eight vessels, 18 barges, 42 wooden boats and 38 suspects were arrested and intercepted from January till date.
He added that 70 illegal refinery sites, with several storage tanks and dugout pits laden with over 4,300MT of suspected stolen crude oil as well as over 2,191MT of illegally refined AGO were destroyed.
“In addition, 21 fibre boats, three trucks and tankers, 18 outboard engines, 16 generators, 12 welding machines and 36 pumping machines were recovered within the same period,” he said
He said that the security situation in the base’s Area of Operation (AOO) could best be described as unpredictable.
Bora attributed this to upsurge in agitation from various militant groups and conduct of some desperate politicians.
“These groups in their desperation to acquire power at all cost use dubious means, including employment of thugs to threaten the peaceful political climate and security of lives and property in the state.
“The fallout of this reprehensible conduct is the recent cases of reported killings and kidnappings perpetrated by cult groups and other criminals in the state.
“Notwithstanding, the base has re-strategised and put in place measures that would ensure the safety and security of lawful activities within its AOO.
“Operations against crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and other maritime criminalities in the last six months have witnessed the deployment of an average of 10 gunboats and 18 private maritime logistics support company vessels for sustained patrols monthly,’’ Bora said.
The commanders, however, appealed for speedy adjudication of cases related to illegal bunkering and oil theft.
Commander of NNS Delta, Commodore Ibrahim Dewu, who spoke on the issue, identified the slow pace of adjudication as factors responsible for persistent illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta region.
He noted that the process of trial of arrested suspects for oil theft was slow and encouraged the perpetrators to easily go back into the illicit act.
“Suspects should be tried almost immediately and jailed.
“The navy spends huge amount of money in maintaining seized ships, some of the vessels were seized since 2007.”
He urged the judiciary to carry out speedy trial of those arrested over alleged involvement in maritime crimes on the country’s waterways.
“This has become expedient so as to free the channels of ship wrecks and make it navigable for sea going vessels,” he said.
With sustained operation like the ongoing swamp buggy and speedy trial of those involved in oil theft and other maritime crimes, criminality in the Niger Delta region would be reduced to the barest minimum.