Navy, army bat­tle oil thieves in Niger Delta

Daily Trust - - CRIME - From Vic­tor Edozie, Port Har­court.

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

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