By Emma Amaize, Emma Ujah, George Onah, Hector Igbikiowubo, Emma Nnadozie, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Albert Akpo, Yemie Adeoye & Ifeanyi Okolie
LAGOS â€” IN a brazen attack that lasted over three hours, conducted outside the boundaries of the Niger Delta, suspected militants yesterday, blew up the receptor pipelines inside the Atlas Cove jetty, effectively crippling the capacity of the facility to receive petroleum products.
Admiral Ishaya Ibrahim, the Chief of Naval Staff disclosed that the attack left three naval personnel, including an officer dead, while an eyewitness added that four labourers also lost their lives.
The Atlas Cove jetty is the major petroleum products supply and distribution facility that takes petroleum products feed-stock from ocean-going vessels and distributes same to the Ejigbo and Mosimi depots in South West Nigeria.
Vanguard gathered that the attack commenced at about 8:15pm, Sunday, when armed men suspected to be militants stormed the jetty in 15 boats and started shooting indiscriminately.
An eyewitness disclosed that the Naval personnel on duty were taken unawares, adding that those of them who were not cut down by the hail of bullets had to run for cover, allowing the attackers free reign to operate.
â€œThey (attackers) really took their time. It was as if they had inside information of the operations of the jetty. They also stormed the armoury and carted away available arms and ammunition. After scaring off the security personnel, they proceeded to place dynamites on a critical angle of the pipelines linking the receptor jetty and blew it up,â€ the eyewitness disclosed.
When Vanguard visited the area at about 1.30 pm yesterday, the charred remains of the officers including the officer, a Navy Commander, who was said to have assumed duty barely three weeks ago at the Atlas Cove were spotted on the ground.
Several arms and ammunition that were destroyed also littered the ground.
It would be recalled that two months ago, a combined team of Policemen, Navy, Army and SSS men stormed the Takwa Bay Island after they received intelligence reports that militants were grouping there with a view to carrying out attacks on oil installations in the South West zone of the country.
The operation which was described as a huge success led to the arrest of no fewer than 300 suspects who were later charged to court.
MEND claims responsibility
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent by email to the media, saying its fighters launched an attack on the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos state overnight, the first in the area since the group began its latest campaign in May.
â€œThe depot and loading tankers moored at the facility are currently on fire,â€ MEND claimed.
Attack won’t affect fuel supply â€”NNPC
While speaking at the jetty yesterday in his reaction to the development, Mr. Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, Group Managing Director of the NNPC, said he was in Calabar attending a retreat with management staff when he was informed of the sad situation at the Atlas Cove jetty.
â€œWe immediately began to get in touch with the authorities, including the Chief of Naval Staff, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Lagos state government and other agencies, to first of all get verify information and then to organise a rapid response for the purpose of saving lives of our staff who were on duty and other military personnel.â€
Barkindo disclosed that the fire itself that threatened the whole facility was put off about 4:10 am on yesterday, adding that as far as the Corporation was concerned, â€œthis is the first time that this type of incident has happened in Atlas Cove and its environs.
Literally everybody concerned was taken by complete surprise because this facility had been secured on a twenty four hour basis, seven days a week, we have never had any incident, rather, we have had excellent community relationship with the surrounding communities here who have been extremely helpful to us as a Corporation.â€
He described the development as unfortunate and commiserated with the Chief of Naval staff over the loss of his men.
Barkindo also assured that owing to contingency measures put in place, the development would not affect petroleum products supply and distribution in the country.
Vanguard gathered that petroleum products would be streamed to the depot from a Single Buoy Mooring (SBM) anchored 7 nautical miles offshore, but linked to the jetty.
The NNPC helmsman also pointed out that effective measures were being put in place to guarantee security of lives and personnel.
Naval chief laments men’s death
Also speaking, Admiral Ibrahim who expressed sorrow over the loss of his men, noted that the militants must take advantage of the amnesty offered by Mr. President before he runs out of patience.
Sad devt â€” NUPENG
In its reaction, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), said no fewer than four labourers were burnt to ashes by the resultant inferno while another is on danger list.
Lagos Zonal Chairman of NUPENG, Comrade Tokunbo Korodo told Vanguard that in spite of the assurance by the Group Managing Director of NNPC, fuel supply in the country would definitely be affected.
He lamented the ugly development and declared that it was an evidence of insecurity in the country and posited that his members would stay off the area until appropriate security measures were put in place.
According to him: â€œit is a sad development and very bad for the nation. It obviously shows that we are not safe in this country.
I can tell you that fuel supply will definitely be affected because the Atlas Cove supplies all NNPC facilities like Ejigbo, Mosimi, Sagamu, Ibadan, Ilorin and others. They can no longer receive supplies.
“The NNPC GMD has assured that suuplies would not be affected. But we cannot see the magic he would perform. The only alternatives left are the private jetties. Until the repairs are completed, there would be no supply from the area.
“Our members will stay off the area until there is adequate security. I can tell you that no fewer than four labourers were burnt to ashes while one is currently on danger list. Although, they are not our members, but they were human beings and Nigerians in search of their daily bread.â€
Alaibe condemns attack
The Presidentâ€™s Special Adviser on the Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe has called for a re-think of strategy in the Niger Delta struggle, even as he condemned the attack on Atlas Cove by militants.
Mr. Alaibe who is the immediate past Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission said in a statement in Abuja that the Umaru Yarâ€™Adua government had demonstrated enough seriousness to address the problems of the region and must be given a chance.
His words, â€œit is time for a rethink of strategy if the objective remains liberating our people from misery and want.
â€œIt is incontrovertible that at no time in the history of this country has the Federal Government of Nigeria demonstrated the level of understanding and appreciation of the crisis than its recent engagement of an amnesty process for the people involved in violent resolution of the crisis.
â€œSadly, this demonstration of uncommon courage and understanding by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua has not been reciprocated.
â€œI am therefore deeply saddened by the very latest in the series of attacks on oil installations by MEND, reportedly on the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos.
â€œI dare say that this attack and indeed any future such attack on sensitive oil and gas installations is condemnable, unnecessary, diversionary and uncalled for.
â€œEven as attested to by several stakeholders in Niger Delta, President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s resolve and sincerity to tackle head-on the myriad of problems confronting the oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta is unassailable.â€
The presidential adviser added, â€œthe President desires to achieve peace which indeed is the only route to progress in the Niger Delta. He has offered his hands of brotherhood and we must unclench ours.
â€œNow, more than ever before, the whole country is desirous of developing the Niger Delta. However, that can not happen in an atmosphere that encourages blowing up oil and gas installations which further exacerbates the problem of environmental degradation.â€
Ijaw Youths blame attack on Tompolo
The Ijaw Youth Campaign for Peace has said that it is saddened by Sundayâ€™s attack on Atlas Cove Terminal in Lagos and the continuous destruction of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta.
In an online statement to Vanguard in Port Harcourt, yesterday signed by its spokesman, Pere Prince, the group called on all Ijaws at home and abroad to reject the actions of MEND for its wanton destruction of the countryâ€™s economic property in the land.
â€œWe wish to categorically state that yesterdayâ€™s (Sundayâ€™s) attack on Atlas Cove Terminal in Lagos and the previous attacks on oil installations which MEND claimed responsibility is condemnable.
â€œWe also urge all Ijaws at home and in the Diaspora to join in condemning this barbaric act on the economy of our nation. This is an act of economic sabotage which will not solve the present crises rather it would bring a set back.
â€œWe wish to alert the general public that Tompolo and few other renegades were responsible for this action. This is rather unfortunate moreso, the long awaited pardon has been granted not only to our freedom fighters, but to our respected brother and son, Henry Okah.
â€œWe should cooperate with government of the day that has shown concrete steps to actualize our dreams, otherwise we will be left with no option if this action persists, but forward names of those involved to the Federal Government requesting to expunge them from enjoying the amnesty, because, we do not want the innocent people to suffer in the event of further conflicts.
â€œWe also wish to say with all sense of respect that we are proud of majority of freedom fighters exemplified by the likes of Boyloaf, Farah Dagogo etc for not being part of this wanton destruction. These actions are capable of denting the image of Ijaws and Niger Deltans in general. We further wish other respected Ijaw elders to condemn this continued act of economic sabotage which will invariably lead us nowhere.â€