By Kingsley Omonobi, with agency reports
ABUJA—The Nigerian Army said it has uncovered a massive illegal oil bunkering site at the Makoba Beach in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Ironically, the site is just a kilometre away from the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and two kilometres away from the Rivers State Government House.
Commander of 2 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Brig.-Gen. Stevenson Olabanji, told the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, yesterday, in Port Harcourt that thousands of litres of illegally refined automotive gas oil, AGO, popularly called diesel were discovered at the site.
The discovery came as the Nigerian Navy, yesterday, charged ship owners in the country to fish out economic saboteurs in their midst, and cooperate with security agencies in the fight against oil theft and other heinous crimes in the maritime industry.
Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, gave the charge when he received the chairman and executive members of the Nigerian Ship Owners Association, NSOA, in his office.
Makoba Beach bunkering
While the Makoba Beach operation came as a big surprise considering its closeness to government quarters, Gen. Olabanji disclosed that Army operatives were immediately deployed to the site on getting the information.
He said: “About 16:40 hours on Monday, we got information that some illegal bunkering activities were going on along Makoba Beach.
“On arrival, our personnel discovered illegal activities which involved bunkering of illegally refined petroleum products and lifting of diesel onto local boats.
“At the site, we found more than 5,000 drums loaded with illegally refined diesel; four tanker trucks containing 132,000 litres of diesel combined, and a barge with 165,000 litres of stolen diesel.
“This discovery is unprecedented because since we started our operations 10 days ago, this is about the biggest that we have uncovered.”
Olabanji said that additional 150 drums loaded with about 3,150 litres of diesel, were also discovered in 21 ‘Cotonou boats’.
He said that 13 suspects were arrested at the scene of the illegal activity, adding that the illegal bunkering dump had not yet been set ablaze, in line with the Joint Task Force, JTF, mandate because of its closeness to residential buildings and the NPA.
Challenges of destroying bunkering site
“Our mandate requires us to destroy the site in situ, but we cannot do this because it will degrade the environment and affect residents since it is situated in the heart of Port Harcourt. Our plan is to move them to a safe location for destruction.”
The commander said that preliminary investigation had already begun to unravel sponsors of the activity, adding that the 13 suspects would be handed over to the relevant authorities for further investigation and prosecution.
Olabanji, while urging oil thieves to desist from sabotaging oil and gas installations, assured Nigerians that the JTF would not rest until it rids the state of illegal bunkering activities.
“Let it be known that the Army will not and will never tolerate illegal bunkering in our area of responsibility,” he assured, and called on the public to provide the JTF with timely information which could lead to the arrest of oil thieves and pipeline vandals.
War on illegal bunkering
Admiral Ibas noted that as stakeholders in the nation’s maritime sector, which accounts for 85 per cent of the country’s international trade, ship owners’ cooperation and input will greatly help the war on illegal bunkering and maritime crimes.
His words: “Let me say that the Nigerian Ship Owners Association has contributed immensely to the Nigerian Navy’s operations and successes in the past and are still doing so. During the ECOMOG intervention of the 1990’s, the association assisted the Navy with some logistic support. Any nation that is blessed with the seas must utilise its benefits.
“As a littoral state, we need all stakeholders to come together to achieve a crime free and safe maritime environment because over 85% of our trade takes place in the high seas. If we develop our bulk trade business in line with international best practices, ship owners will not only benefit more, the nation will be better off.
“As major stakeholders in the maritime sector, I want to acknowledge that you have done a lot but we need you to do more because you cover a lot of grounds in the sector since your ships go far and wide. With over 84, 000 nautical miles, the Navy alone with our assets cannot cover everywhere. But your members can give us information.
“We, therefore, are soliciting your support through information from your members such that if we get timely information about oil theft and illegal bunkering activities, it will enable us act fast and save the nation from losing much needed resources.
“In the alternative, we want to warn that activities of saboteurs in your midst and those who commit heinous crimes in the seas will be resisted, and if caught, made to face the consequences. We are also fully ready to collaborate with you because we’re aware of the enormous employment opportunities your association provides for the nation.”
Earlier, President of the Ship Owners Association, Capt. BO Labinjo (rtd), disclosed that they were at the Naval Headquarters to pledge support for the new leadership with a view to checkmating oil theft and other maritime crimes in Nigeria.
Capt. Labinjo said the association has 103 member companies, and 98 non-ship owner companies, adding that there is a need for collaboration between the Navy and the ship owners to ensure the fight against maritime crimes is successful.
“The Navy and ship owners are like two wings of the same bird. Both of us are of the seas. You are the fighting Navy, and we are the merchant Navy. Without the fighting Navy, the seas will be overrun, and without merchant Navy, the nation’s economy will suffer as trading activities will be disrupted. So collaboration is the way forward,” he said.