By Edu Abade
A frontline group of environmental activists, the Home of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the weekend, berated the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) for setting ablaze a vessel allegedly laden with stolen crude oil on the nation’s waters.
The group argued that such an action constituted grave environmental infraction capable of worsening the already precarious situation exacerbated by decades of oil exploration, especially in the Niger Delta region.
It argued that oil theft in Nigeria remains an organised crime and has become a huge industry with local and international collaborators involved in the illegal deal, adding that it has historical roots, which have taken different dimensions and manifesting in several forms, some of which had been concealed until recently.
Reacting to the incident, Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, pointed out that with the recent destruction of a vessel containing stolen crude oil, it is rather shocking to note that the continuous cry of pollution made by Nigerians have evaded the attention of the JTF and the NNPCL.
According to him, the Spokesman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Garba Muhammad, in a statement said: “Further investigation into the activities of the vessel revealed that the vessel has been operating secretly for the past 12 years with the last reported location of the vessel being in Tin Can Port in July 2011. It was reported that there was no valid documentation for the vessel or the crude oil cargo on-board as of the time of the arrest.
“Just recently, the tanker, identified as the Tura II (ex-name Ali Riza Bey, IMO 6620462), was captured in an offshore location with stolen crude oil and after the vessel was seized and the crew detained, the vessel was destroyed by a Nigerian military helicopter.”
But HOMEF raised concerns over the utter disregard for the environment and human lives considering the manner in which the vessel was destroyed without any attempt to comply with international best practice. The incident also confirmed the fact that Nigeria does not know the amount of crude oil that leaves the country’s shores on daily basis.
It lamented that after setting the vessel ablaze, the JTF stated that its destruction would send a warning signal to those involved in oil theft and incentivise them to desist from the illegal act, insisting that the significance of the bombing of the vessel is the indication to Nigerians that authorities cared less about their safety and the environment.
Bassey stated that while the Niger Delta burns on account of gas flaring, oil spills and other forms of pollution, the burning of crude oil vessel has added insult to injury, adding:
“The drama that unfolded regarding the seized and bombed vessel is extremely disturbing. Destroying a vessel loaded with 800,000 barrels of crude oil should be taken as a new low in the demonstration of wastefulness on the part of those who should be watching over the nation’s resources. The entire episode requires urgent investigation.
“Why would anyone blow up a vessel and dump 800,000 barrels of oil into the environment? If that volume of crude is correct, this must be one of the largest volumes of crude oil spilled in one incident. Our security men are often seen protecting pollution such as gas flares, ruptured pipelines and stripping communities of their dignity. In this incident they have demonstrated utter disregard to our constitutional right to a safe environment.”
Bassey further noted: “One drop of crude oil contaminates 25 litres of water. Imagine what 800,000 barrels of crude oil would do. It means destruction of fisheries and of livelihoods. It also means directly poisoning our people. It is shocking and unacceptable. The entire thing seems to have been staged for some unknown purposes. How can security agents bomb a vessel loaded with crude oil with Nigerians watching and filming as if they were being entertained.
“Oil theft is a crime, but blowing up a vessel loaded with crude oil is a higher order of malfeasance. The security forces need some training on environmental and climate crises. What has played out is sickening on many levels, economic waste and ecological assault. Security cannot be a valid reason for blowing up the vessel. We need to know why this was done, and urgently too!”
“Considering the impact that the destruction will have on the marine ecosystem and the contribution to the pollution that has plagued the region, government agencies must adopt safe ways of handling rogue vessels, including ways of putting them out of commission. Outright destruction of vessels on the high sea is not environmentally acceptable.
“It is time for the JTF and the NNPCL to begin to work with environmental experts and those who are genuinely concerned about the environment to protect lives and livelihoods.”
Describing the destruction of the vessel as “barbaric and a major contribution to the ongoing pollution of Nigeria’s waters,” HOMEF added that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoni environment and the recently released report on the contamination of Bayelsa State should be made a required reading for security agencies, NNPC and officials of government agencies, who should know the dangers and impacts of hydrocarbons pollution on the larger environment.