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The Nigerian Navy in Bonny, Rivers, said on Thursday that it had arrested six suspected smugglers who stole 5.69 million litres of diesel worth N1.17 billion.

Cdr. Ibrahim Gwaska, the Acting Commanding Officer, Forward Operating Base, Bonny, told newsmen in Bonny that troops arrested the suspects off the Coast of Bonny Island in Rivers.

Gwaska said the suspected oil thieves were caught transporting the petroleum product stored in a Lagos-registered vessel, MV Ogo Oluwa, to unknown destination before the seizure.

He said: “The oil tanker, Ogo Oluwa, was intercepted by our troops who were on routine patrol within Bonny channel on April 6 at 1.30 a.m.

“Troops sighted the vessel discreetly moving along the channel with its navigation lights and Automatic Identification System switched off to avoid detection by the navy.”

He explained that it was unknown to the suspects that the troops were able to the monitor movement of the suspected illicit vessel via its radar.

Gwaska said: “Our suspicion of the vessel got aroused after the vessel intentionally switched off its navigation lights and AIS apparently to hide its identity.

“After boarding the vessel, we found out that it was laden with 569 metric tonnes (5.69 million litres) of petroleum product suspected to be illegally refined diesel.

“We demanded for the vessel’s permit to lift the petroleum product but no document was provided to us. Thereafter, we arrested the six crewmen onboard the vessel.”

Gwaska said it was a crime to transport petroleum products without permit and to navigate the waterways without navigation light switched on at night.

He handed over the suspects, vessel and diesel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for further investigation.

The acting commanding officer said the navy had intensified its patrol of waterways and creeks leading to several arrests of oil thieves and seizure of vessels and wooden boats.

He said: “We will not relent on our determination to rid the maritime environment of criminal activities.

“Criminals are advised to seek legitimate means of livelihood; otherwise, they will be arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the law.”

Receiving the suspects, a senior detective with the anti-graft agency, Arasah Shaka, said the commission would conduct speedy investigation into the matter.

Shaka said the suspects would be arraigned in court if found culpable of the crime.

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