Niger Delta: Navy destroys 50 illegal refineries, arrest vessels

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By Enaibo Asiayei

Continuing with its war against crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta, the Nigerian Navy yesterday, June 18 2019, said it has destroyed over 50 illegal refineries in the past 32 days around Yeye, Burutu and Ibafa creeks in Delta State.

The operatives of NN attached to the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta also arrested six ships – MT AYSU, MT INTERIM, MV MAMA ELIZABETH, MT MIRACLE, MV NIPAL and SD WATERMAN – as well as 80 wooden boats used by alleged criminals for bunkering of petroleum products siphoned from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines and crude oil well heads in six months.

The Commander of NNS DELTA, Commodore Ibrahim Dewu spoke during an educational tour by select journalists to some naval operational bases in the Niger Delta.

The Nation reports that Defence correspondents picked from Lagos and Abuja were taken into the creeks around Warri where the criminals operate a well-coordinated but crude distillation processes.

Our correspondent observed scores of 10,000-litre metal tanks in one of the camps at Benett Island spanning about seven acres of land.

The destruction of the illegal refineries was done with the use of swam buggies, an excavator used in swampy areas to crush metallic substances and render them unusable, thereby avoiding further pollution of the land and surrounding water.

It was also gathered that the Navy identified over 900 illegal refinery camps within NNS DELTA’s area of operation (AOO) with the bulk of it located around Ughelli and Warri South local government areas.

According to Commodore Dewu, several persons have been arrested for various maritime offences and handed over to prosecutorial agencies, while the vessels were kept in trust for the agencies, in line with the Harmonised Standard Operation Procedure (HSOP).

Decrying the delay in prosecuting the cases, the commander noted that it was costing the Navy so much money to maintain the vessels to avoid their going aground.

He said some of the vessels had been in the jetty for up to seven years, while the recovered 185 outboard engines, hoses and other equipment recovered from the suspects or sites were littering the base.

Dewu urged the Judiciary and prosecution agencies to fast-track the trials of suspects to save the service the cost of maintaining, securing the vessels and other exhibits the prosecution agencies do not have the facilities to keep.

The Navy commodore said the cases of more than six ships apprehended by his command for alleged oil theft in the last six months were yet to be resolved in courts.

According to him, the criminals were emboldened due to the slow pace of justice.

“The suspects should be tried almost immediately and judgment delivered. Some of the arrested vessels you see here have been handed over to prosecutorial agencies about six or seven years ago. The cases are still in court.

“The Navy has handed over to the agencies that prosecute but because the agencies do not have the facilities to keep these ships, we keep them in our jetty in trust for them while they prosecute the cases.

“We have to deploy men on the vessels and maintain them because we do not want regress. There is need for these cases to be concluded early to spare us these costs and free the jetty for sea-going vessels.

“The Navy spends huge amount of money in maintaining the seized ships. When they are taken in water, we send divers to patch them up so that they won’t go aground… Some of the vessels have been arrested since 2007.”

Dewu said the base had adopted constant and effective surveillance of the hinterland from land and air to adequately comb the terrains.

The Director of Naval Information, Commodore Suleiman Dahun, who led the tour delegation, said the exercise was to expose journalists to some of the daily routines of the Navy and the terrain its personnel work in.