By Jimitota Onoyume, Port Harcourt
THIS certainly is not the best of times for operators of illegal refineries in Rivers State as men of the Nigerian Navy Ship, Pathfinder, are already making good their threat of putting them permanently out of business. In fact, in the last two months, 78 illegal refineries have been smashed in various creeks in the State.
According to Commander Shuwa Abdulrahim Mohammed of the Nigerian Navy Ship Pathfinder in the state: “The heat is already on oil thieves and those running illegal refineries in the state. The anti-oil theft war is on, no compromise”.
He said his men will not relent until all illegal refiners are flushed out. “We will smoke these oil thieves out of their hideouts. They will have no peace unless they change from this illicit act,” he told newsmen at the base.
His men have continued to comb all parts of the creeks for oil thieves. Last Saturday while the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas was at the Naval Ship Pathfinder, Commander Mohammed’s men were at Oloma community smashing illegal crude oil refineries.
Base Operations Officer, Nigerian Naval Ship Pathfinder, Commander Innocent Chidi Ejiofor, said they go on daily patrol with gunboats on waterways fighting these oil thieves. “The Base regularly deploys gunboats for daily patrols and show of force along Port Harcourt and Bonny Channels as well as within creeks in our area of operations. On August 5, 2015, NNS PATHFINDER deployed two gunboats to Onne axis and Bolo area.
The Gunboat Team located a large illegal bunkering site along NAFCON Creek, Onne axis. Three active illegal crude oil refineries, three storage tanks, one containing about 10,000 litres and the other two each containing about 5,000 litres of substance suspected to be stolen crude oil and, another three ground storage tanks each containing about 2,000 litres of product suspected to be illegally refined AGO were discovered at the site and were set ablaze in situ,” he said.
Commander Ejiofor said they also smashed a storage tank farm and drums containing a total of about 700, 000 litres of illegal crude around Cartharwn channel and Bile axis recently. He said the oil thieves had also started storing stolen crude at underground tank farms, adding that the ones found were also destroyed during the Cartharwn channel operation. Four of those destroyed had about 50,000 AGO.
In Ogbobolo creek, Bolo area of Eleme local government of Rivers State another batch, five illegal refineries, 15 storage tanks bearing about 50,000 illegal crude oil were also destroyed. Also smashed were another 15 tanks containing 750,000 illegally refined AGO Rear Admiral Ibas said the Navy was already building capacity to enhance its operations. He said though the Navy cannot reach all the locations where wellheads, pipelines and oil facilities are but this will not limit its effort at tackling the problem.
The Naval Chief said the Navy was going to raise the number of choke points on the waterways to see that stolen crude will not be taken out of the country.
He further warned his men to be committed in this renewed effort against crude oil theft, vowing not to spare anyone caught aiding and abetting oil thieves. “I think you may have the records of the efforts put in by the navy last year by reducing crude oil theft drastically from about 1.2 million barrels a day to something close to 250, 000 barrels – that was achieved last year.
“But again the Navy is not even in the position to reach some of the locations where the wellheads, pipelines and facilities are being vandalised. But we take responsibility for whatever is missing perhaps through the open seas.
“You have asked what effort the Navy is going to put in place. I think we are really finding our strategies, our patrol strategies to ensure that we create more choke points, so that when you steal whatever you have to steal, you cannot have access into the open sea. We will not tolerate that, and the Navy has never tolerated its personnel conniving to wreck the nation. If we get any personnel such a person will be sanctioned appropriately,” he said.
He said the Navy will continue to destroy vessels and boats caught conveying illegal crude, stressing that this will discourage many from going into the nefarious business. “The navy has a responsibility of stopping the menace. If we do not destroy these things in situ it means you are releasing the boats to be taken back again. So the Navy cannot be held accountable.
“So for now, while noting the impact on the environment, we will continue to do that which will deter them from continuing with their nefarious acts, “ he added.