Navy vows to prosecute fleeing owners of abandoned oil vessels
The Nigerian Navy said it will arrest and prosecute fleeing owners of abandoned sea-going vessels over alleged illegal oil bunkering activities.
The Navy on Monday made this vow in a statement signed by the spokesperson, AO Ayo-Vaughan, in reaction to the owner of the recently destroyed vessel (MV Cecelia), Chief Jasper Ako.
The owners of the Marine Vessel (MV) Cecelia Imo, recently destroyed by the Marine Component of the Military Joint Task Force of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), accused the Nigerian Navy of acting too hastily and maliciously.
The owners, Soljas Limited, at a press briefing in Port Harcourt last Friday, denied using the vessel for any illegal dealings or storage of illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) known as diesel, contrary to the allegation by the Nigerian Navy.
The Navy reacting said that, although the vessel had not been put in use for two years, it was being used as a storage tank for illegally refined products, describing the allegations by the owner as unfounded.
“For the avoidance of doubt and to set the records straight, MV Cecelis has been a vessel of interest and was being tracked for allegations of oil theft,” Ayo-Vaughan said.
“The vessel was arrested on 15 August 2023 with products suspected to be illegally refined Automated Gas Oil (Diesel) at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State following an operation by the Naval Component of OPDS.
“However, the owners of the vessel remained at large. Subsequently, the sample of the products onboard the vessel was taken for laboratory analysis and it was discovered to be illicit AGO.
“Pertinently, the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with extant procedure.”
Ayo-Vaughan said that in some cases where vessels involved in oil theft are arrested, the owners abscond leaving the NN to bear the cost of keeping and sustaining such vessels.
He added that this has cost Nigeria huge sums of money and has constituted serious national security problems because most of the vessels either sink alongside the jetty or within the channel constituting serious navigational hazards.
According to Ayo-Vaughan, these abandoned vessels have been the major reason why the International Maritime Organization in the past declared Nigeria’s ports/waterways as the most unsafe ports in the region.
He urged the public to note that MV Cecelia has not been operational and has been alongside for about two years bacause as at the time of the arrest, the vessel was laden with about 250,000 litres of illicit AGO.
The Navy spokesman stated that so far, three suspects have been arrested and have made useful statements while the alleged owners remained at large.
“Additionally, the vessel has no NNPCL or any other regulatory approval to serve as an AGO storage facility. This fact is clearly known to the NN and OPDS as all approved storage facilities are usually communicated to Naval Headquarters by relevant agencies for monitoring,” he said.
“It is important to note that the intelligence revealed that illegally refined products are received onboard MV Cecelia for storage. One of the suspects revealed that they usually bring illegally refined AGO in ‘Cotonou’ (large wooden) boats and Geepee tanks and offload into MV Cecelia pending when it will be sold to unsuspecting members of the public.
“It is unfortunate that this practice has been going on without being detected until the recent re-invigorated intelligence-led operations by OPDS and the NN.”
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