The Nigerian Navy has seized more than 168 drums allegedly filled with petroleum product and suspected to be adulterated diesel, an official said.
About 18 suspected oil thieves, including 16 men and two women were caught loading the illegally refined diesel into eight large wooden boats before their arrest.
Cdr. Murtala Rogo, Base Operations Officer, Nigerian Navy Ship, Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, handing over the suspects and exhibits to the Rivers Police Command on Friday.
According to him, the boats were intercepted during a major raid by naval forces around Bakana Creek in Port Harcourt.
He said: “Troops of NNS Pathfinder on patrol arrested the 18 suspected illegal bunkerers around Bakana Creek on June 19.
“At the time of arrest, the suspects were found on eight wooden boats laden with 168 drums of substance suspected to be illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (diesel).
“Consequently, the 18 suspects were remanded in our (navy) custody for safe keeping and investigation.”
Rogo said the naval headquarters later directed the handover of the suspects and exhibits to the police to commence full blown investigation to the allegations.
He said: “We have concluded our investigation and in line with the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedure, the 18 suspects and recovered items are hereby handed over to police.
“The police will conduct further investigations and possibly prosecute the suspects.”
The naval officer expressed optimism the arrest and prosecution of the suspects in court would serve as deterrent to youths willing to indulge in maritime crime.
Receiving the suspects and exhibits, DCP Ahmed Kontagora, lauded the navy for the synergy that exist between the two security outfits.
Kontagora, who is Deputy Commissioner in charge of State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Rivers Police Command, assured that the suspects would have their day in court.
He said: “We will immediately launch credible investigation for possible prosecution of the suspects and any other culprits involved with the case.
“Any individual involved in this illicit trade will be punished in accordance to the law. This criminal activity must be put to a stop.’’
He added that another 18 alleged oil thieves earlier handed over to the command by the Nigerian Navy on June 2, had all been charged at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.