Navy, army battle oil thieves in Niger Delta
Crude oil theft and illegal refining are a booming business for jobless youths and the main source of pollution in the Niger Delta region. Despite efforts put in place to curtail illegal oil bunkering, the criminal economic activities are rising on a daily basis.
As part of effort to stem the embarrassing tide of oil theft in Niger Delta , former president Goodluck Jonathan set up joint military taskforce code named ‘Operation Polu Shield,’ commanded by a top ranking army general but the illegal oil theft and economic sabotage is still booming.
In 2013, the federal government estimated crude oil theft and associated differed production at over 300,000 barrels of oil per day.
Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) is presently divesting its investment in the Nigerian oil sector because of the criminal activities of crude thieves.
The oil giant in its quarterly journal said intentional interference with pipeline and other infrastructure was responsible for about 75% of oil spill incidents while the total volume of spilled oil from its facilities between 2009 to 2013 stood at 92%. Much greater volumes of oil are discharged into the environment away from the company’s facilities through illegal refining and transportation of stolen crude oil.
In 2013, Shell said the number of spills from its facilities are caused by sabotage while theft increased to 157 compared to 137 in 2012 whilst production loss due to crude oil theft , sabotage and related temporary shutdowns increased by around 75%. The company said on average, around 32,000 barrels per day are stolen from SPDC pipelines and other facilities, whilst the joint venture lost production of around 174,000 bapd due to shutdowns related to theft and other third party interference. This equates to several billion dollars in revenue losses for the Nigerian government and the joint venture.
It is against this backdrop that the federal government set up joint task force to survey the pipeline areas and halt illegal oil activities.
Several military hardware such as gunboats, swamp buggy, surveillance aircraft and naval high calibre war ships were procured to survey the waterways but all to no avail as illegal oil bunkering is still thriving. The Nigerian Navy in 2013 carried out an operation tagged “Fatua” to survey the waterways and possibly arrest those trading on illegal oil.
Those involved in illegal oil bunkering said abject poverty and the need to take care of their financial challenges lured them into such illegal economic sabotage. A good number of locals residing in the coastal communities also operate illegal refineries in their communities to make ends meet.
Some of the respondents, who spoke with our reporter, on the issue said poverty was the main reason why they engaged in illegal refineries.
‘’A good number of youths residing in most coastal communities see illegal refineries as a booming business. When we get the crude from ruptured pipelines we refine the products into finished products such as fuel and diesel which we sell to local buyers.
“It is a business that gives us money and with it, we make ends meet. It’s unfortunate that we tap crude oil from pipes and we know it is very risky. As I speak to you, I have stopped the business. The Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta, (JTF) has destroyed so many local refineries and we have to do other things legitimate to survive,’’ stated one source, who spoke with our reporter in Soku, Rivers State.
The source who pleaded anonymity, urged federal and state governments to assist residents of rural communities, especially those living near pipelines, with jobs or other things that will keep them busy.
The youths involved in this economic crime are becoming wiser and sophisticated just as they acquire arms and ammunition to counter any challenger in their criminal activities. The law enforcement agents had severally engaged these youths in gun battles. The Nigerian Navy said recently that it now has community intelligence and policing strategies to effectively fight oil theft, sea piracy and pipeline vandalism as well as gun running in the coastal mangrove of the Niger Delta region.
The flag officer commanding Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Atiku Abdulkadir, who disclosed this during an inspection tour of Navy formations and units in Onne, said illegal bunkering activities have negative impact on the nation’s economy and as such, the navy must dominate the creeks and waterways to end oil theft.
Rear Adm. Abdulkadir said that operational bases and ‘choke’ points had been created at the creeks to make it near impossible for oil thieves to transport their wares without being spotted by troops.
The Navy command in Port Harcourt, as part of its drive to fight economic crime, began mopping up of several of the newly discovered illegal refineries which have combined capacity to produce thousands of litres of petroleum products daily.
Commodore Shuwa Muhammed, Commander, NNS, Pathfinder, Port Harcourt said several illegal refineries hidden under thick sheds of mangrove forest were sighted during aerial surveillance with the environment polluted.
“In the course of our operation, an illegal refinery with 145,000 litres of stolen crude oil was set ablaze in Buguma, Rivers State . More than 50,000 litres of illegally refined diesel stored in 10 tanks were also destroyed,” he said.
He said a metallic badge and dump which had capacity to store thousands of petroleum products was also destroyed. He hinted that operators of the illegal refineries, about 20 of them, fled the scene on sighting advancing naval troops.
The Nigerian Army is also involved in the fight against oil theft. It said recently that it has uncovered massive illegal oil bunkering site situated one kilometre along the Nigerian Ports Authority in Port Harcourt.
Brig. Gen. Stevenson Olabanji, the Commander of 2 Brigade of the Nigerian Army told reporters that thousands of litres of illegally refined diesel were discovered at the site. He said that the army operations were immediately deplored to the site at Makoba Beach after a tip off which is two kilometers away from the Rivers State government’s house.
He said that 13 suspects were arrested at the scene of the illegal facility while preliminary investigation had already begun to unravel sponsors of the facilities. He further hinted that the 13 suspects arrested would be handed over to relevant authorities for further investigation and prosecution.
Olabanji while urging against sabotage of oil and gas installations by oil thieves, assured that the JTF would not rest until it rid the state of illegal bunkering activities.
A scene of illegal refinery in the Niger-Delta.
Another scene where oil thieves carry out their activities in the Niger-Delta region