No fewer than five sailors suspected to be oil thieves have been arrested in Rivers State by the Nigerian Navy for allegedly attempting to sell adulterated diesel to motorists.
The all-male sailors were arrested alongside eight large wooden boats laden with thousands of litres of petroleum products, suspected to be illegally refined diesel.
Commodore Umar Sidi, Base Operations Officer, Nigerian Navy Ship Pathfinder Port Harcourt, on Saturday handed over the suspects and items to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
Sidi said: “The five suspects were arrested on January 6 by NNS Pathfinder’s tactical riverine squadron acting on credible intelligence.
“Shortly after receiving intelligence on the activities of the illegal bunkers, troops conducted a simultaneous raid at Isaka Junction and Cawthorn Channel River in the state.
“At the end of the raids, troops arrested five suspects and seized eight large wooden boats laden with an unspecified quantity of petroleum products, suspected to be illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (diesel).”
The Base Operations Officer said that preliminary investigation revealed that the petroleum product might have been illegally refined by the sailors for sale to unsuspecting motorists and other users.
According to him, the Navy under the command of the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, has zero tolerance to illegal bunkering and illegalities on the nation’s waters.
“So, we are here to hand over the suspects and wooden boats to the NSCDC for further investigation and possible prosecution, in line with the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedure,” he sad.
Sidi denied claims that the rising soot pollution in Port Harcourt and environs was partly as a result of the destruction of illegal refineries by the Navy.
He said that the Navy was concerned over the soot pollution and had already taken steps to tackle the menace and bring the perpetrators to book.
He said: “The Navy does not set ablaze illegal refineries during operation.
“We only destroy the metallic tanks and reservoirs with the Swamp Buggy Excavator machine.
“The soot is as a result of the burning of crude oil during the refining process by oil thieves and illegal bunkers.
“However, we have observed that the illegal refiners are very determined to continue with their illicit activities, hence our adoption of a new strategy to effectively tackle them.
“The new mandate is to destroy the illegal refineries and at the same time intercept the movement of the petroleum products either on sea or on land.”
The Officer noted that the Naval Base had intensified its riverine operations to mitigate the effect of the soot pollution.
Receiving the suspects and the items, Ichela John, Head of Intelligence and Investigation of NSCDC, Port Harcourt, promised speedy investigation and prosecution of the suspects, if found culpable.
He commended the Navy for its collaboration with the NSCDC in tackling crimes and criminalities on the nation’s waterways.
“Through the support of the navy and other security agencies in Rivers, we received 205 suspects and secured 50 convictions in 2021,” John said.