The Nigerian Navy said on Friday that it had arrested 16 Ukrainian nationals for illegally transporting 5 million litres of diesel without permit from Nigerian authorities.
One vessel, MT San Padre Pio and the 16 all-male crew members were held in the operation, Capt. Suleiman Olorundare, Commanding Officer of the Nigerian Navy Forward Operating Base, Bonny told newsman.
Olorundare said the vessel anchored around Odudu Oil Field, Rivers, and waited to discharge the petroleum product to smaller vessels before it was caught by naval patrol team.
“On Jan. 23, MT San Padre Pio with 16 crew members of Ukrainian nationals was arrested over unauthorised entry into the nation’s maritime environment.
“When our troops went on-board the vessel, they discovered that the vessel engaged in illegal trading activities that contravene the nation’s maritime and cabotage laws.
“The vessel was carrying petroleum product suspected to be diesel of about 5,000 metric tonnes (5 million litres),” he said.
The commanding officer said the seizure and arrest were carried out in compliance with ongoing clamp down on criminal activities within the nation’s territorial waters.
He said the suspects breached international maritime laws and procedure by shipping products in Nigeria’s waters without permit.
“We also discovered that the vessel has been coming into our territorial waters with petroleum products without recourse to the nation’s law that governs such activities.
“The Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Adm. Ibok-Ete Ibas, is passionate about zero tolerance on illegality on our waters, and as such, we are fully focused on sustaining this mandate.
“The Nigerian Navy will continue to arrest and prosecute criminal elements who carry out illegalities on our maritime environment with intent to making legitimate economic activities thrive,” he said.
Olorundare handed the vessel, petroleum product and suspects to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for further investigation and possible prosecution.
The Captain of MT San Padre Pio, Andriy Vaskov, claimed that the vessel had clearance from the Nigerian Navy to ship the product to Nigeria.
He said that they lifted the product from Lome in Togo and attempted to discharge the product at Odudu oil fields to its Nigerian partners before their arrest.
“This is about the fifth time that we have transported petroleum product to the country,” he confessed.
Vaskov named Blue Sea Marine Company as its Nigerian partners.
Newsmen learned that foreign vessels seeking to transport petroleum products to Nigeria must get clearance from the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) before shipment.