In the last one year, Nigerian export terminals have become the hub of illegal shipment of petroleum products by local and foreign ship owners, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Recently, the Nigerian Navy handed over 70 out of 147 vessels arrested over illegal oil bunkering and crude oil theft to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).
According to the Navy, a total of 14 vessels arrested were handed over to the owners, who had been acquitted of the cases against them. Its Director of Lesson Learnt, Emmanuel Ogala, a Rear Admiral, said that the vessels were handed over to the sister agency because Nigerian Navy has no power to prosecute the arrested vessels, noting that the detained vessels and persons were usually handed over to security agencies and, in most cases, EFCC.
According to him, a total of 40 vessels were arrested, particularly in 2017 and nine in 2021, adding that it has provided details of the vessels arrested including the ones handed over to the prosecuting agencies. Despite this, it was learnt that the seizures have not deterred illegal activities by both local and foreign ship owners on Nigerian waters.
Because of the illegal shipment of oil products in the country, Nigeria lost $1 billion in revenue during the first quarter of 2022. For instance, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) said that of the 141 million barrels of oil produced in the first quarter of 2022, only about 132 million barrels of oil were received at export terminals, stressing that crude oil theft by vessel owners increased to a daily average of 108,000 barrels in the first quarter of 2022 from 103,000 barrels in 2021.
The theft has resulted in the declaration of force majeure at Bonny Oil & Gas Terminal, a pipeline transporting crude to export vessels.
Last week, for instance, the Nigerian Navy said that a super tanker, MV Heroic Idun , was arrested by the Equatorial Guinea Navy over alleged crude oil theft in Nigeria. It was learnt that the vessel had arrived one of the oil terminals, Total Safe Anchorage (SA), operated by Akpo Oil Field for loading operations but was interrogated by the Nigerian Navy and later discovered to lack the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)’s due clearance for the loading operations.
As a cover up, the vessel raised false alarm that it was under attack in Nigeria in order to escape arrest from Nigerian Navy.
According to the Naval Director of Information, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, the vessel was arrested by Equatorial Guinea after it fled from Nigeria’s Akpo Oil Field when its activities were uncovered by operatives of the Nigerian Navy.
He said that the latest effort and the arrest was an indication of renewed collaboration between Gulf of Guinea (GoG) nations.
He explained that trouble started when the tanker with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) number 9858058 was ordered by Naval Ship, NNS GONGOLA, to sail to Bonny Fairway Buoy for interrogation.
Ayo-Vaughan stressed that the Regional Centre for Maritime Security for West Africa (CRESMAO), Abidjan, also confirmed that the vessel raised a false alarm about an attempted boarding between 10 to 15 nautical mile (nm) of Akpo oil field in Nigeria to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) Zone E and other international platforms.
He said: “On Sunday 7 August 2022, personnel of the Nigerian Navy on routine patrol had observed and reported the suspicious presence of MT Heroic Idun in Akpo Oil Field, Deep Offshore Bonny.
The Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) with IMO Number: 9858058 is a 336 metre long tanker with carrying capacity of 299,995 metric tonnes had proceeded for the loading operation at the Akpo Single Buoy Mooring (SBM) on 8 August 2022 without producing her NNPC clearance papers for the loading operation but it was queried by navy.
“The Captain of MT Heroic Idun then revealed that he was instructed by his ship’s agent, Messrs Inchape Shipping (owners of Idun Maritime Limited), not to obey any directive from the Nigerian Navy. The VLCC subsequently resisted arrest when ordered to stop by NNS GONGOLA and the supertanker escaped towards the Nigeria-Sao Tome Joint Development Zone Area.
In a bid to be mischievous and justify her escape, MT Heroic Idun reported her encounter with NNS GONGOLA as a sea robbery/ pirate attack on various international maritime security watch platforms.
“The Head of CRESMAO, Rear Admiral Istifanus Albarra, confirmed that the Captain of the Tanker refused to cooperate and rather altered course towards Sao-Tome and Principe and later deliberately raised false alarm to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that she was under pirate attack. This information was subsequently broadcast by IMB to the relevant international authorities and stakeholders.
“As a result of this, Equatorial Guinea stopped the vessel on the afternoon of August 12, 2022, offshore the Island of Annobon and was escorted by Equatorial Guinea Navy to Luba, arriving on August 13, 2022.
“Further checks revealed that the MV Heroic Idun visited Singapore in June, arriving in South Africa in mid-July before heading on to Nigeria with crew of 26 aboard -16 Indians, eight Sri Lankans, one Pole and one Filipino.
“Norway’s Hunter Group sold the Hunter Idun on July 22. The company did not disclose the identity of the buyer. However a report from Splash 247 named DAO Shipping as the owner.”
There is need for government to punish officials conspiring with ship owners in the illegal shipment of oil products. This will curb incessant stealing in the Nigerian maritime domain.