By Samuel OYADONGHA
The Joint Task Force code- named, Operation Pulo Shield, has said that foreign nationals working in the Niger Delta region and their vessels have been placed on the security watch list of security agencies over their alleged involvement in crude oil theft in the region.
Commander of the Joint Task Force, Major General Johnson Ochoga, said out of about 1,945 suspects arrested and 18 vessels impounded in the region for alleged oil theft, 38 of them were foreigners mainly from Ghana, India, Lebanon and other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe.
Ochoga in an interview in Yenagoa said, the recent arrest of 21 Ghanaians and their five Nigerian collaborators as well as the destruction of two vessels containing 1,300 tonnes of crude oil is an indicator that there is a noticeable involvement of foreigners in illegal bunkering in the region.
“Another instance is the recent arrest of 10 suspects of India nationality and four Nigerians on board MT ASHKAY. This has brought to the fore, the need to monitor foreigners more closely in the region which is a primary responsibility of the Nigerian Immigration Service and further underscore the importance of the multi agency nature of the JTF,” he added.
The JTF commander also disclosed that out of the 7,585 anti-illegal bunkering patrols conducted by the Joint Task Force in the last 12 months, 133 barges, 1,215 Cotonou boats, 187 tanker trucks, 178 illegal fuel dumps, and five surface tanks were destroyed.
Also destroyed were 36,504 drums of illegally refined products, 638 pumping machines and 326 outboard engines.
He however expressed sadness over the loss of nine of his men, with another three sustaining serious injuries during the year’s operation.
Ochoga identified some of the challenges facing the outfit to include attacks by daring illegal oil bunkerers, pirates and sea robbers, who sometimes engage his men in armed combats.
Other challenges, he stated, were support of communities for oil thieves, involvement of foreigners in illegal bunkering, ineptitude of oil company surveillance contractors and the slow prosecution and quick dispensation of justice.
He also cited the non-registration of oil vessels, barges and motorised boats as a critical challenge being used to perpetrate illegal oil bunkering, saying they “undermine efforts at eradicating oil theft in the Niger Delta.”