The Nigerian Navy has debunked the ‘spurious and baseless’ allegations of seizure and destruction made by the owner of a merchant vessel (MV) CECELIA.
This was contained in a statement issued on Sunday, 27th August, by the NN’s Director of Information, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan.
Clearing the air on the allegations, the NN explained that the vessel had been on their watch list and was being tracked for allegations of oil theft before it was arrested on 15 August 2023 with products suspected to be illegally refined AGO at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State following an operation by the Naval Component of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS).
The owners of the vessel remained at large, while the sample of the products onboard the vessel was taken for laboratory analysis, and was discovered to be illicit AGO.
“Pertinently, the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with extant procedure, a “practice among oil thieves”.
The statement further disclosed that owners of vessels involved in oil theft usually abscond after their vessels have been arrested, leaving the NN to bear the cost of keeping and sustaining the vessels.
“This has cost the nation huge sums of money and has constituted serious national security problems. Most of the vessels either sink alongside the jetty or within the channel constituting serious navigational hazards. These abandoned vessels have been the major reason why the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the past, declared the nation’s ports/waterways as the most unsafe ports in the region”, Ayo-Vaughan said.
He further noted that MV CECELIA has not been operational and has been alongside for about 2 years. At the time of the arrest, the vessel was laden with about 250,000 litres of illicit AGO. Three suspects have been arrested and have made useful statements while the alleged owners remained at large.
Additionally, the vessel has no Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) or any other regulatory approval to serve as an AGO storage facility, a fact clearly known to the NN and OPDS as all approved storage facilities are usually communicated to Naval Headquarters by relevant agencies for monitoring.
The statement said that according to one of the suspects, they usually bring illegally refined AGO in ‘Cotonou’ (large wooden) boats and Geepee tanks and offload into MV CECELIA pending when it will be sold to unsuspecting members of the public, and regretted that this practice has been ongoing without being detected until the recent re-invigorated intelligence-led operations by OPDS and the NN.
“The arrest of MV CECELIA is therefore a milestone achievement in the renewed drive to rid the Niger Delta of the illicit crime of oil theft. Accordingly, the NN and OPDS will not be hindered by the usual antics of the oil thieves. These sometimes include the owners claiming ignorance of the use of their vessels for illegalities. The NN and OPDS remain law abiding and will continue to carry out its statutory roles of fighting oil theft including destruction of platforms used to carry out the illegalities in line with extant Presidential directives”, the statement said.