The Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta, on Wednesday handed over twenty-two suspected oil thieves, two sea going vessels, and a wooden boat containing approximately 240,000 litres of product suspected to be illegally refined diesel, to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Warri.
The Commander, NNS Delta, Commodore Ibrahim Dewu, who spoke to journalists during the handing over process also warned those engaged in illegal activities within the area of operation of his command to desist forthwith, saying that the Nigerian Navy was poised to block all escape routes to criminals in the Nigerian maritime environment.
Dewu, who spoke in the company of other senior officers of the NNS Delta, including the Executive Officer (XO), Navy Captain Adeyemi Adewuyi, said the vessels, wooden boat, the product and the arrested crew members were all nabbed offshore Escravos River, engaged in transfer of the illicitly acquired product on Sunday, May 18, 2019.
According to Dewu, “In a bid to secure and sanitise the area of operation of NNS Delta, on the 19th of May, 2019, at 0130 hours, NNS Delta patrol team arrested SD Waterman, MV NIPAL and two large wooden boats, offshore Escravos, carrying out illegal transfer of products. At the point of arrest, about 22 crewmembers were brought in after the arrest.
“While bringing in the arrested vessels from Escravos, one of the large wooden boats was seriously taking in water and in the process went aground and sank. Efforts are ongoing to salvage the vessel. Some of the drums and products were recovered and brought back to NNS Delta.”
Dewu said in view of this, they carried out their preliminary investigations and found the arrested vessels and crew members culpable of committing economic crime, adding that in that regard, they decided to invite in the EFCC to take to take over the case for further investigation and possible prosecution.
“The product onboard is suspected to be illegally refined AGO. At the point of arrest, one of the Cotonou boats, which was arrested beside MV NIPAL had about 150,000 litres, the vessel and the boat were arrested in the process of starting the ship-to-ship transfer, while SD Waterman had already taken some of the products from another Cotonou boat, which was secured alongside the vessel.
“There is about 80,000 litres in the boat beside SD Waterman, while about 10,000 litres had already been transferred into the vessel (SD Waterman).
“Let me use this opportunity also to warn and advise all individuals or persons involved in this nefarious act to desist from it because the Navy will not stop from doing everything possible to sanitise our maritime domains”, he warned.
A Principal Detective Superintendent of the EFCC from the Benin Zonal office, Richard Ogberaga, who also spoke on behalf of the EFCC team, said investigation had already commenced into the circumstances surrounding the vessels, their crewmembers and the product found on them.
“We have just taken over the vessels. There are two vessels; MV NIPAL and SD Waterman, with one Cotonou boat. We are also aware that there are 22 suspects, whom we have just taken over. We have already commenced investigation by telling officials of DPR here, they are starting with the sounding of the vessels to determine the quantity of product in them. We are also looking at quality; samples will be taken and quality analysis will be done”
“We are going to interview the suspects and find out the extent of their involvement and how they came about this product. We will brief you subsequently of developments as the investigation continues,” he said.
Responding to a question on what had been happening to previously handed over cases, Ogberaga assured that all cases so far transferred to the EFCC office in Benin had been charged to court, adding that one of the cases had won a conviction.
“We have about seven, including this one, cases that have been transferred from here to the Benin office and all of them are in court. With MT NIPAL, the people have been convicted and sentenced to prison and the vessel is gone for permanent forfeiture,” he said.