The Nigerian Navy on Wednesday arrested oil thieves along Bakana creeks, Port Harcourt in Rivers state.

About 131,085.06 barrels of crude oil and 29,612,202 litres of illegally refined products valued at about N8.4 billion have been destroyed by the Nigerian Navy (NN) between January and June 19, it was learnt.

Also destroyed were 227 illegal refineries, 2,688 storage facilities and 364 wooden boats while 11 barges and 32 vessels were impounded.

The destruction and arrests which were done in line with the NN’s Anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) efforts, showed a significant increase in activities of oil thieves but 34.01 percent decline in illegal refineries when compared to the same period last year.

There were 29 incidents of piracy, sea robberies , representing a slight decrease from the 38 cases recorded same period last year. Of the 38 incidents, 10 (26.3 percent) were successful and 28 (73.7 percent) foiled. On the other hand, the 29 incidents recorded this year showed 11 (38 percent) success and 18 (62 percent) failed attacks.

These statistics were contained in the Navy’s comprehensive analysis of its performance in the first half of 2019 viz-a-viz successes recorded within the same period last year. The report which was obtained by The Nation showed that the NN destroyed 187,084.59 barrels of crude oil and 11,879,500 litres of illegally refined products valued at about N6.1 billion, 344 illegal refineries, 1,003 storage facilities and 68 wooden boats. Five barges and 25 vessels involved in suspected COT were impounded between January and June last year.

Using charts and graphs to illustrate efforts of the NN in curbing maritime crimes and other vices, the report showed that anti-smuggling operations of the service was yielding positive results with the seizure of 924,322 litres of petroleum products suspected to have been from the vandalised Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines as well as 6,290 bags of rice.

These recoveries, it indicated, represented 13.05 and 54.62 percent decreases in smuggling when compared to 1,063,075 petroleum products and 13,681 bags of rice recorded within the same period last year.

According to the Director, Naval Information (DINFO) Commodore Suleiman Dahun, the successes recorded so far were as a result of the directive by the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, to all bases and commands to improve on intelligence based patrols.

He said smuggled rice were intercepted in the areas of operations (AOO) of NNS VICTORY as well as Forward Operation Bases (FOB) Ibaka and Badagry at different intervals in the last six months, adding that smugglers seemed to have shifted base from communities like Ibaka to places like Badagry.

“The Navy has noticed this trend and we are tackling it with all the seriousness required. It is also believed that most of those who hitherto engaged in smuggling of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) siphoned from Atlas Cove were venturing into smuggling of rice and poultry. There have been three major seizures of rice and two of poultry goods within FOB BADAGRY AOO.

“Going forward, NN bases have been directed to step up intelligence gathering efforts and ensure sustained patrols of the seaward flanks of their AOO. These units have also been directed to sustain their anti-smuggling patrols with a view to arresting more suspects,” said Commodore Dahun.

On the decrease in illegal refineries, he said it was largely due to the extensive swamp buggy operations carried out by NNS PATHFINDER and NNS DELTA.

“Nevertheless, the increase in the quantity of crude oil and illegally refined products as well as the number of storage tanks, illegal refineries and wooden boats destroyed is attributable to the sustained patrol efforts and intelligence gathering techniques by the bases which have made it difficult to move out stolen products from the backwaters/creeks to the sea.

“Despite these efforts by the NN to ensure that the oil thieves do not have freedom of action, the criminal elements through their recently adopted confrontational posture with NN personnel on patrol, have continued to demonstrate their resilience and total resolve to continue with their nefarious activities,” he said.

Acknowledging concerns of pollution and degradation of the environment arising from destruction of these illegally refined products and the sites, he said the NN was already in talks with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to explore better ways of disposing them.

“The Director General of NOSDRA visited the CNS on May 22 on this issue. Sequel to the meeting, NOSDRA nominated two of its personnel to collaborate with nominated personnel from the NN to consider better disposal methods of the products instead of burning.

“This is with a view to reducing environmental degradation and economic losses to the nation. An NN team is already interfacing with NOSDRA. It is envisaged that the outcome of this deliberations would offer better alternatives to the current methods of destruction of seized illegally sourced petroleum products within Nigeria’s maritime environment.

“Furthermore, the NN operations bases and FOBs have been directed to double their efforts and step up intelligence gathering mechanism and security patrols in order to frustrate the crude oil thieves perpetrating illegalities in their various AORs,” Commodore Dahun said.

Explaining the marginal increase in successful piracy, sea robbery attacks, Dahun said it was as a result of possible compromise and complicity of ship’s crew in some of the reported incidents.

This position, he said, was arrived at after investigations showed that some attacked merchant vessels may have intentionally failed to position lookouts, carry out evasive manoeuvres or muster the whole ship’s crew in the citadel to avoid being abducted.

“Recall that two isolated attacks involving MV GLARUS flagged Switzerland and MT APECUS flagged Palau, on September 22, 2018 and April 19, 2019 respectively, were piracy incidents suspected to have been carried out with some level of complicity of the crew members.

“The NN in addition to the integration of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities has continued to maintain presence at sea with continuous deployment of NN ships. Despite all these efforts, the pirates have continued to evolve new tactics to continue terrorising sea fearers to the detriment of Nigeria’s shipping industry and its negative effect on economic prosperity of the nation.”

“The NN would speed up the drones acquisition and integration program as this would enhance NN operations through early warning. This would in turn reduce reaction time for NN platforms. Furthermore, the NN is liaising with NIMASA on the need to inform merchant ship owners to conduct proper vetting of ship’s crew to forestall the possibility of hiring criminal minded individuals.

“The NN would continue to deploy appropriate platforms in identified areas prone to piracy/sea robbery in other to reduce the rate of attacks on shipping within Nigeria’s maritime domain.”

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