The Nigerian Navy has announced that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has issued a declaration highlighting the unsafe conditions of the nation’s waterways for conducting business due to the prevalent practice of abandoning vessels involved in oil theft along these routes.
According to the Navy, the abandonment of such vessels has contributed significantly to the elevated insurance premiums on ships operating within Nigerian waters. Clearing these waterways of abandoned vessels has incurred substantial financial costs.
In an official statement released on Sunday by Commodore A.O Ayo-Vaughan, the Director of Information, the Navy disclosed that it was tracking a vessel named Merchant Vessel Cecelia in connection with allegations of oil theft.
This development comes subsequent to accusations leveled against the Navy by the owners of MV Cecelia, who claimed that the Navy had taken possession of the vessel and subsequently destroyed it.
The statement elucidated, “On 15 August 2023, the vessel was apprehended at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, with suspected illegally refined AGO, following a successful operation by the Naval Component of OPDS. While a press briefing was conducted immediately after the arrest, the vessel’s owners remained evasive.”
Subsequent actions saw a sample of the products onboard the vessel subjected to laboratory analysis, revealing their illicit nature as AGO. Significantly, the vessel’s owners failed to present themselves to witness the testing procedure in line with established protocols.
The Navy conveyed its frustration with a recurring pattern wherein oil thieves abscond, leaving the Navy to bear the financial burden of maintaining and upkeeping the vessels. This issue has not only led to substantial financial drains but has also posed significant national security concerns.
The Navy pointed out that the sinking of many of these abandoned vessels has led to serious navigational hazards, a factor that has contributed to the IMO’s past declaration that Nigeria’s ports and waterways are among the most unsafe in the region.
This situation has further contributed to the inflated insurance premiums for ships operating within Nigerian waters, thus adversely affecting the nation’s economy. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Nigerian Navy (NN) have collectively expended significant resources on clearing wrecks resulting from abandoned vessels involved in oil theft.
The statement further clarified that MV Cecelia had not been operational and had remained inactive for approximately two years. At the time of its arrest, the vessel was carrying around 250,000 liters of illicit AGO. While three suspects have been apprehended and have provided valuable information, the alleged owners of the vessel remain at large.
It was confirmed that MV Cecelia lacked the necessary regulatory approvals, such as from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL), to function as an AGO storage facility. The Navy emphasized that approved storage facilities are routinely communicated to Naval Headquarters by relevant authorities for monitoring.
The statement highlighted that intelligence had revealed a scheme involving the reception of illegally refined products on MV Cecelia for storage. One suspect revealed that these products were brought in via ‘Cotonou’ boats and Geepee tanks, offloaded onto MV Cecelia, and stored until they could be sold to unsuspecting individuals. This illicit practice had gone undetected until the recent intensified intelligence-led operations by OPDS and the NN.
The Navy celebrated the arrest of MV Cecelia as a significant accomplishment in the renewed campaign to eradicate oil theft from the Niger Delta. The Navy and OPDS remain committed to their efforts and will not be hindered by the tactics often employed by oil thieves, including feigned ignorance by vessel owners. The statement reaffirmed the Navy’s dedication to combating oil theft in the nation’s waterways.