August 19, 2023

Navy/Tantita Brouhaha: How not to fight oil thieves

oil thieves

•Unnecessary misconception; Misplaced conclusion
•Tantita did not intercept MT PRAISEL – JTF Commander

By Emma Amaize,Regional Editor, South-South

The sure brush strokes the nation’s security agencies and the pipeline surveillance contractors require to rise above oil thieves in the Niger Delta are to have a common purpose, synchronize operations, share intelligence, and work together with mutual trust and respect for each other.

On the contrary, the way to failure is to operate at cross-purpose and be antagonistic to each other.

That is why the recent outburst of the Nigerian Navy, NN, the lead agency in the fight against maritime crimes against Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, a private security contractor, over the interception of Motor Tanker, MT PRAISEL, August 2, in Delta State, raises concerns among stakeholders.

Needless misapprehension

Nigerian Navy, which has the right to defend its integrity, went smoking against TSSNL, describing its interruption of MT PRAISEL escorted by its personnel on grounds of crude oil bunkering as ”mischievous”, “high-handed”, “ unprofessional conduct”, “totally wrong”, “spontaneous actions from insufficient, and unverified information.”

The Director of Information, Naval Headquarters, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, was unsparing in the outburst against TSSNL as if both were at daggers drawn.

Faulting the entire operations of TSSNL after a laboratory test conducted by five agencies showed the suspected product to be High Pour Fuel Oil, HPFO, not crude oil, Ayo-Vaughan declared: ”This result, therefore, proves that the allegation and suspicion were totally wrong, unfounded, and perhaps mischievous.”

”Intelligence, which was said to have been received in respect of the vessel and its product, was equally wrong. This singular incident brings to the fore the high-handedness and unprofessional conduct displayed, with its attendant negative consequences for the supplier and buyer of the product, the vessel hired to convey it, and other parties involved in the legitimate business.”
The Navy also added that private security contractors had no right to intercept suspected vessels, but report it to conventional security agencies.

Noticeably, the Navy misconstrued many things in its fury against TSSNL. With its unprecedented uncovering of several maritime crimes in the last few months that have led to an increase in the nation’s oil production, NN should have looked at the real motive of the private contractor in the August 2 interruption.

Simply, it was to track down oil thieves in its area of operation, and the imprecision of suspected crude oil, instead of HPFO, in MT PRAISEL was not enough for the irritability the Navy put on show.

TSSNL did not intercept MT PRAISEL — JTF Commander

However, the Joint Task Force Commander, JTF, The Commander of JTF, Operation Delta Safe, OPDS, Rear- Admiral Olusegun Ferreira, cleared the air on one or two misconstructions by the Navy.

He clarified that Tantita did not act alone during MT PRAISEL’s interruption. His words: “However, on August 2, 2023, Tantita Security Services Ltd, (reportedly acting on intelligence), suspected the vessel to be laden with crude oil and approached an element of OPDS to accompany their operatives to board the vessel to confirm the product on board.”

His explanation was that TSSNL acted on intelligence, and brought the intelligence to the knowledge of OPDS before the joint operation by operatives of both Tantita and OPDS
He further said, “It is pertinent to note that Tantita and other pipeline surveillance companies do not embark on independent operations. The operations are conducted in conjunction with OPDS units, and troops based on intelligence provided by sources.”

His explanation: ”Subsequently, the vessel was taken to Escravos Anchorage in the early hours of August 3, 2023, for verification of the product on board, and other investigations due to the weighty suspicion and zero tolerance for Crude Oil Theft (COT) by the Armed Forces of Nigeria.”
Moving the vessel to Escravos Anchorage for investigation after the high command of the Navy confirmed MT PRAISEL’s business in the creeks of Delta state, was undoubtedly an acceptable procedure.

Hearing the JTF Commander, it was unlikely that what transpired was “unprofessional conduct,” ”mischievous,” and “totally wrong” as the Navy seemed to have concluded.

Instructive in the NN flare-up was the insinuation that Tantita allegedly escalated the matter to higher quarters without exhausting other product verification processes.

On its part, Tantita explained that the documentation provided by the master of the vessel was doubtful, as the vessel was moving in the opposite direction of the discharge point claimed in its documents.

Its words: ”The intelligence suggested that the vessel ought to be sailing to Lagos, but the master of the vessel indicated he was sailing to Bonny. Tantita requested naval clearance and the documentation showed by the Master of the vessel indicated Koko as the Port of discharge for storage only.

”There was nothing indicating Bonny as Port of discharge in that document. In line with the Standard Operating Procedure, Tantita requested further clarification from the crew regarding the discrepancy between the NMDPRA permit and the naval clearance, and permission to take samples of cargo onboard.”

Also of concern is the declaration of the JTF Commander, which is also the position of the Nigerian Navy that private surveillance contractors should not intercept suspected vessels.

Security sources, however, told Saturday Vanguard, that the commotion sparked by the Nigerian Navy that Tantita intercepted MT PRAISEL was misplaced, as officially it did not.

Rear Admiral Ferreira said, “It is noteworthy that in this case Tantita did not intercept or arrest MT PRAISEL, but the vessel was directed to proceed to Anchorage for investigation.”

No power to carry out an independent investigation —Navy, JTF

Throwing his weight behind NN on the powerlessness of private security contractors to intercept suspected oil vessels, he insisted, “It is necessary to clarify that pipeline surveillance contractors, including Tantita, are only to provide credible intelligence to the OPDS elements working with them, and are not permitted to independently carry out an operation to intercept or arrest any vessel.”

The issue of the rights of private security contractors to intercept or not intercept oil thieves has not been resolved, as some persons had raised queries on it. A situation arose lately in which one of the security agencies tipped off an oil cabal on intelligence a private security contractor shared with it regarding a thieving vessel that they later tracked down.

Missing link

Perhaps, if the security agencies bothered to complement their operations in the Niger Delta, a central coordinating agency should have circulated information about the movement of the vessel in addition to its mission, therefore, OPDS and Tantita would not be in the dark before their joint operation.

Stakeholders call for caution

Concerned stakeholders taken aback at the Navy’s hard-hitting stance on the matter advised the security agencies not to work at cross-purpose.

A security expert, Engineer Johnson Okolie, said, “If the anger of the Navy is that Tantita profiled a so-called vessel incorrectly, that is not a crime in the line of work. Such marginal error can occur and all security agencies, including the Navy had profiled suspects faultily in the past.”

”The important thing here is that Tantita is on track, and is working with the Navy, OPDS, and other security agencies. It has also made massive discoveries since the country engaged it, last year”

“It is not the only private security contractor, but it appears to be the only one working really hard, and is everywhere. Nigerians have seen the commitment and contributions of Tantita, since last year.

”If TSSNL intercepted the vessel on the suspicion of oil theft based on available intelligence, and they later find out that the product was not stolen crude, but HPFO, is that a justifiable reason for the Navy to be so hard lined in its response?

”What is the graciousness of the Navy describing Tantita’s action as ‘mischievous,’ ‘high-handed,’ ‘unprofessional conduct,’ spontaneous actions from insufficient and unverified information’ when the security agency itself confirmed that the vessel was directed to the Escravos Anchorage for investigation.

”The Navy sent a wrong signal with its spiteful retort; it should have been guarded, knowing that Tantita was merely executing its assignment. They should not quarrel over nothing,” he added.

Chair, Board of Trustees, BoT, CHURAC, Cleric Alaowei, who spoke in a similar vein, cautioned security agencies guarding oil facilities in the Niger Delta region not to work at variance with the Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, a private security contractor, engaged by the Nigerian Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL.

”We also appeal to security agencies protecting oil facilities to partner with the TSSNL. A situation where the company works at cross-purpose with some vested interest in the cartel is not good, especially if the security agencies appear to be taken side with the cartel is not good.”

”As much as we know, TSSNL is only discharging its responsibility to the nation. Therefore, security agencies in the oil sector should at all times work with the company.

”Nigerians, and indeed the international community are happy that the company is fighting the menace not minding whose ox gored. That is the only way the country can nip crude oil theft in the bud.

”The private security company deserved all commendations for ridding the region of oil theft. Since the NNPCL awarded an oil pipeline surveillance contract to the company, owned by High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, illegal bunkering activities are becoming outdated,” he asserted.