The Nigerian Navy has arrested 17 suspects who were caught siphoning 15 million liters of crude oil from a wellhead in the EBESAN oil field, located about 7 nautical miles off the coast of Awoye riverine community in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.
The suspects were apprehended by the Navy’s Forward Operating Base (FOB) IGBOKODA, in the early hours of December 7, 2023, at around 3 a.m. They were aboard a 77-meter-long Motor Tanker (MT) named VINNALARIS 1 LAGOS.
“I did some Googling – 7nm is like 13km. This wellhead is 13km offshore. That distance is longer than the 3rd Mainland Bridge. Offshore. Clearly this was not work for small boys. Or fly-by-night operators. These are criminals who know their work, know the area,” said Tolu Ogunlesi, a former special assistant on digital and new media to President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.
The Navy accused Tantita Security Service (TSS) of culpability, describing the alarm raised by the TSS as false.
In a statement signed by Adedotun Ayo- Vaughan, the director, naval information, the Navy revealed that FOB IGBOKODA, detected the vessel on Wednesday December 6, 2023 at about 10:00pm before it was arrested hours later.
He said, “furthermore, it is believed that Tantita Security Service (TSS) is involved in these illegalities because Awoye riverine area which is close to the place of arrest is covered by TSS. “Again, it was upon the arrest of the vessel by the Nigerian Navy that TSS began to raise false alarm, totally unfounded and indeed mischievous.
Nonetheless, the Nigerian Navy remains resolute in the pursuit of her constitutional mandate for the protection of Nigeria’s Maritime Environment for national economic development and prosperity”.
The apprehension of the vessel, according to him, was based on credible intelligence received by the Base, on illegal activities of crude oil thieves at the location, thereby prompting the deployment of FOB IGBOKODA personnel to enforce the arrest of the vessel and her crew.
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He added that as the anti-Crude Oil Theft Patrol Team of FOB IGBOKODA approached MT VINNALARIS 1 LAGOS; the two boats attached to the vessel fled on sighting the naval personnel,” confirming the engagement of the vessel in illegality.
The statement read: ” Accordingly, on arrival at the scene, it was discovered that the vessel was actively involved in siphoning crude oil from both sides of the well head. Consequently, upon further search and interrogation, it was further discovered that the vessel had onboard 17 crew members of Nigerian nationality. “The vessel’s storage capacity is about 15,000 metric tonnes and as at the time of arrest she had loaded about 500 Metric tonnes of crude oil.