Fallouts of Renewed Naval Onslaught Against Oil Thieves

Between December 2023 and February 2024, the Nigerian Navy in the Western waters,has succeeded in arresting 41 suspected oil thieves and recovered over three million litres of petroleum products

As activities of oil thieves threaten the nation’s economy and capable of reducing Nigeria’s capacity to meet up with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota of 1.5m barrels per day, the Nigerian Navy has risen to the occasion with renewed vigour

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Late last year , at the 36th OPEC and non-OPEC ministerial meeting, the producers’ group projected that Nigeria could only achieve an oil production quota of 1.5 million barrels per day in 2024.

That was after a week-long intense negotiation that saw the parties agree to raise the country’s production quota from 1.38 million bpd to 1.5 million bpd.

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As activities of oil thieves threaten the goal of meeting OPEC quota and sustaining the nation’s economy, the Navy has at various fronts confronted them either at the point of suspicious movement of switching off ships’ automatic identification system (AIS) , ship to ship movement and carrying of petroleum products whose source was not disclosed.

The Forward Operating Base, (FOB) Igbokoda in Ondo on Wednesday 6 December 2023 at about 10:00pm detected and arrested a 77-meter-long Motor Tanker (MT)VINNALARIS 1 LAGOS.

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The vessel which had 17 crew members onboard at the time of arrest was caught engaging in illegal siphoning of crude oil from one of the well heads at EBESAN oil field about 7 nautical miles off the coast of Awoye riverine community in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.

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According to Ayo Vaughan,a Rear Admiral, who then was the naval spokesman, the apprehension of the vessel was based on credible intelligence received by the base on the illegal activities of crude oil thieves at the location which informed the swift deployment of FOB IGBOKODA personnel to enforce the arrest of the vessel and her crew.

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Vaughan added that “the anti-Crude Oil Theft Patrol Team of FOB IGBOKODA approached MT VINNALARIS 1 LAGOS, the 2 x boats attached to the vessel fled on sighting the naval personnel which confirmed the engagement of the vessel in illegality. Accordingly,on arrival at the scene, it was discovered that the vessel was actively involved in siphoning crude oil from both sides of the well head. Consequently, upon further search and interrogation, it was further discovered that the vessel had onboard 17 crew members of Nigerian nationality. The vessel’s storage capacity is about 15,000 metric tonnes and as at the time of arrest she had loaded about 500 Metric tonnes of crude oil”

Early February,2024 NNS Beecroft arrested Motor Tanker SAISNIL II involved in suspected crude oil theft

Under the watch of Commodore Kolawole Olumide Oguntuga who also is the Maritime Component Commander of Operation AWATSE , NNS Beecroft arrested a vessel, Motor Tanker SAISNIL II. A St. Vincent & Grenadines flagged vessel that had 11 crew onboard as at the time of arrest.

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Speaking with journalists onboard the vessel , the Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral MB Hassan, stated that the vessel was observed to have turned off its Automatic Identification System (AIS), which is a grievous infraction within the nation’s maritime domain.

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Turning the AIS off, which makes a ship operate incognito within an area raises suspicion of likelihood of illegal activities.

The infraction necessitated deployment of Nigerian Navy Ship SOKOTO, which sailed 199 nautical miles to intercept and returned the vessel to Lagos Anchorage.

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According to the Flag Officer, SAISNIL II initially sailed from Lagos Anchorage on 23 November 2023 to Taraba Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to evacuate about 720,000 Liters of Crude Oil Sludge but the manipulation of it AIS around ABO Field for over 48 hours gave rise to a reasonable suspicion of illegalities.

Another NNS Beecroft Patrol Team, arrested a vessel , Motor Tanker SWEET MIRI, suspected to have been involved in crude oil theft with 13 crew members onboard at the time of arrest.

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The Base Information Officer of Nigerian Navy Ship BEECROFT, Lieutenant Hussaini Ibrahim ,in a press statement revealed that while briefing newsmen onboard the vessel, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral MB Hassan stated that the vessel has been a vessel of interest to the Nigerian Navy and she is being arrested on suspicion of crude oil theft.

He added that, on 25 February 2024, the vessel was observed to have switched off its Automatic Identification System to avoid detection. The vessel was arrested at 174 nautical miles of the coast of Nigeria, approximately 320 kilometers, heading to Benin Republic.

This necessitated the deployment of Nigerian Navy Ship ABA to investigate the vessel. Subsequently, she was found carrying products suspected to be crude oil.

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Another ship, NNS SOKOTO was deployed to double up the search and interdict the vessel. On arrival, it was discovered that she was carrying about 2 million liters of suspected product without approval.

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The FOC further disclosed that, in line with the directive of Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral EI Ogalla, the ship is opened for other agencies to come and take samples and carry out their own independent investigations to find out the culpability of the vessel.

Also speaking, the FOC said that, the vessel is owned by a Ghanian and registered in Ghana by a Ghanian company.

In the same vein, while giving update on the earlier arrested Motor Tanker VINNALARIS, the FOC said that, the CNS has instructed that the investigations of all arrested vessels should be conducted beyond the level of crew.

In this regard, the FOC has extended the investigation to uncover the kingpins. He finally appreciated the efforts of DSS for assisting the Nigerian Navy in conducting investigations when matters of crude oil theft are brought to them.

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The Navy has also stepped up destruction of illegal refining sites in some oil rich coastal States of the country. It recently set ablaze four illegal oil refining sites in Rivers, Bayelsa and Ondo States between . In a series of posts on its social media handles it disclosed it’sclampdown on oil thieves in the Niger Delta.

The Navy said its Ship Pathfinder, “discovered and deactivated a wooden boat conveying about 4,500 litres of illegally refined diesel along Bakama axis in Rivers State on Sunday”.

Same day, the Navy disclosed that its Forward Operating Base Formoso, discovered and destroyed an illegal refining site with a large oven of about 40,000 litres of suspected stolen crude oil at Brass River and Akansa general area in Bayelsa State.

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