The Nigerian Navy in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Sunday handed over six vessels and 15 suspected oil thieves to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps for prosecution.
Speaking at the handover, Captain Olusegun Soyemi, the Executive Officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship Pathfinder, said the suspects were arrested for their alleged involvement in illegal bunkering.
Soyemi said one of the suspects (name withheld) was arrested while discretely discharging about 108,000 litres of diesel from a large wooden boat into five vessels without licence.
He said: “On October 20, we got intelligence report about an illegal bunkering activity at a private jetty situated opposite the busy Slaughter market around Trans-Woji area in Port Harcourt.
“On arrival at the jetty, our troops 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 Navy headquarters for the transaction.”
Soyemi said the prime suspect, who doubled as middleman for two companies fingered in the case, had provided useful information during preliminary investigations.
He said the owners of the vessels were subsequently invited for questioning and had tended their statements.
Soyemi added that the owners of the vessels would further be investigated by the NSCDC, while 20 other suspects arrested at the jetty were released after it was discovered that they were not be involved in the case.
The officer said the Navy also handed over a 3,000 metric ton ship and its 14 member crew, who allegedly attempted to steal crude oil from a major pipeline in the state.
He said: “On October 2, troops of NNS Pathfinder impounded a 3,000 metric ton ship, MT Everest, which anchored at a location (few meters 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 registration and clearance from the Nigerian Ports Authority and approval from the Navy 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.”
Soyemi said none of the crew members had certificate and competency to serve aboard the merchant tanker ship.
He warned oil thieves not to sabotage oil and gas installations in the area and assured Nigerians that the Navy would not rest on its oars until illegal bunkering activities had stopped.
Receiving the suspects and vessels, Steven Morgan, the NSCDC’s Head of anti-Vandal Unit of the Rivers State Command, said thorough and forensic investigation would be carried out on the suspects and vessels.
Morgan said the suspects would be prosecuted if found guilty.