The Nigerian Navy said on Tuesday that it had arrested 28 suspected oil thieves in a major mop up operation aimed to end attacks on the nation’s oil and gas installations in Rivers.
Commodore Sam Bura, the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship, Pathfinder, however, presented 23 suspects to newsmen in Eagle Island, near Port Harcourt.
According to him, five other suspects were arrested while attempting to revive an already destroyed illegal refinery in Ogu/Bulo Local Government Area of Rivers.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) gathered that the current efforts to clamp down on illegal refineries was not unconnected with the Federal Government move to establish modular refineries in the Niger Delta.
Bura said that 23 crew members on board a vessel, MT Preye I, were caught in the act of loading petroleum products suspected to be illegally refined diesel from five large wooden boats.
He said that the suspects carried out the illegal activity in the late hours of Saturday night.
“On May 6 at about 10 p.m., we got credible intelligence on the activities of a suspicious vessel lifting products suspected to be illegally refined diesel.
“Troops on board our gunboats were deployed and on arrival, found a very large vessel, MT Preye I, taking petroleum products from five large wooden boats.
“No fewer than 23 suspects, all male of Nigerian nationality, were arrested on board the vessel; they are providing useful information on the matter.
“It is a known fact that wooden boats are not among the approved vessels for trans-shipment, which was partly what raised our suspicion.”
Bura said that the petroleum products would be vetted before the disclosure of the quantity and other relevant information to the public
NAN, however, learnt the product was worth millions in the black market.
The Captain of MT Preye 1, Jude Egwu, said that the Lagos-registered vessel belong to Akoto Ventures Limited, headquartered in Lagos.
He said that the company was deceived by its client, whom he claimed had hired the vessel to transport legitimate goods from Rivers to Lagos.
“On arrival here (Eagle Island), our client directed us to load petroleum products off some wooden boats which was not part of our agreement.
“We, however, decided that since we had already arrived at our destination, we could not go back to Lagos empty handed due to the cost we had already incurred coming here.”
Egwu admitted the crime before newsmen and pleaded for leniency.
Meanwhile, Bura said five other suspects alleged to be operators of the illegal refinery located in Ogu/Bulo local government area, which naval forces had earlier destroyed, were caught attempting to rebuild the facility.
“Thereafter, the Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Naval Commanded directed the total destruction of the illegal refinery, using Swam Buggy machine to deter oil thieves from returning back to the site.
“On arrival at the site, troops arrested five persons on the scene trying to rehabilitate the illegal refinery.
“Eight large metallic storage tanks and other storage facilities used to store both crude oil and diesel were crushed by our Swam Buggy machine,” he said.
NAN reports that Swam Buggy is a machine that completely compresses metallic storage tanks, making it near impossible to be rehabilitated.
Bura said the suspects and vessels would be handed over to relevant government agencies for further investigation and possible prosecution.
The commander gave an assurance that the Navy would continue to maintain 24-hour patrol of the maritime environment, to encourage legitimate businesses, warning criminals to steer clear of the waterways.