A special naval team has impounded a French ship, MT Vannessa, which has allegedly been stealing 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the country since June 9.
SATURDAY PUNCH investigations on Friday showed that six crew members, including two Britons; two Nigerians and two Togolese, were also arrested.
A top naval officer, who pleaded anonymity, said the arrests were made at Brass Loading Terminal, Bayelsa State.
Since June 9, when it had been loading 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day to Thursday when it was impounded, the naval team suspected that the ship might have stolen 8.5m barrels of crude oil.
It was gathered that the suspects, who had made useful confessional statements, indicted some political office holders, many fuel marketers, some officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Department of Petroleum Resources.
It was learnt that security agents had started discreet investigation of those indicted by the suspects.
The indicted officials, investigations showed, had also been put under surveillance.
The special naval team, it was learnt, was assisted by officers of the National Maritime and Administration and Safety Agency and a private security firm, Global West Vessel Specialist.
The impounded ship is currently being anchored at Bonny, Port Harcourt anchorage.
Our correspondents learnt that the country’s actual OPEC quota is about 2m barrels per day.
But 500,000 barrels are being lost to theft involving some ships such as the one that was arrested on Thursday evening.
Describing the operation of the ship, the naval official, who spoke with our correspondent, said that the illegal loading of crude oil was done with the connivance of a European company.
The source explained that the firm provided personnel and equipment to enable the French ship to discharge the stolen crude oil into a bigger ship of 950,000 barrels capacity on the high sea.
He said, “A piece of equipment, mooring master, provided by the European firm, disturbed the radar of Nigerian authorities.
“This made it difficult for Nigerian security agencies to detect the illegal operation. We are also suspecting that many other ships are involved.”
Investigations showed that the special naval team was set up after the escape of a Libyan ship, MT Alyarmouk, which was impounded on June 2.
SUNDAY PUNCH had on June 3 reported that the Libyan ship was impounded in Lagos for allegedly operating illegally on Nigeria’s waters.
The ship was impounded by a combined team of officers of the Nigerian Navy, the National Maritime and Administration and Safety Agency and a private security firm, Global West Vessel Specialist.
The top naval official said, “There is a strong suspicion that some security agents were involved in the escape of the Libyan ship, which is said to be in Lome, Togo now.
“One thing is certain, there is an involvement of top government functionaries, the NNPC and DPR officials. I don’t think this one (the French ship) can escape because of the involvement of the Presidency.”
The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, had, at a roundtable discussion on crude oil production and the state of the oil industry in Nigeria on May 18 in Lagos, said that the country lost $7bn yearly to crude oil theft.
The minister had said, “The country is losing approximately 180,000 barrels of oil equivalent daily at this time. Of course, to the nation, if you look at the international cost of a barrel, it will be estimated at $7bn yearly.”
When contacted, the Director of Naval Information, Commodore Kabiru Aliyu, neither denied nor confirmed it.
He said that he was making efforts to reach naval personnel, who could provide the information in relation with the incident.
However, he later said, “The ship is under arrest and investigation is ongoing right now.”