Naval operatives from the Central Naval Command, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, have arrested nine suspected illegal oil criminals and a vessel laden with 66,000 barrels of oil estimated to worth over N1bn.
The suspects were arrested through a tip-off at Eremor field in Eremor community, off Brass River in the Ekeremor Local Government Area of the state.
The vessel, MT Dera 1, belonging to an oil exploration and production company, was said to have gone to the Eremor field for product testing, but was later discovered to have illegally loaded 66,000 barrels (11 million litres) of substance suspected to be crude oil.
Parading the nine-member crew on before journalists on Friday, Commanding Officer of the base, Commodore Salisu Jubril, put the value of the crude oil at over N1bn.
Jubril said the activities of the exploration company at the oil field had not been duly approved according to Nigerian Navy’s extant regulation.
He said naval operatives on patrol apprehended the vessel and its crew members about 6pm on Thursday.
“Our men on patrol on Thursday, around 1800 hours, made the arrest of this vessel, MT Dera 1, which we found to have substance suspected to be crude oil ─ about 66,000 barrels ─ on board. The company is supposed to be testing for production and they already have this quantity on board.
“So, their activities are supposed to have been given due approval from the Presidency, petroleum resources ministry through Naval headquarters and they are supposed to have papers on board, which of course, they could not tender.
“The only paper they have that we have seen is for exploration and testing. So, the vessel is being arrested and we have stopped all their activities.
“The vessel was arrested at Eremor field. They are supposed to be testing for production, but they already had 66,000 barrels of crude oil on board. The vessel, MT Dera, is about 99 metres long, 3,800 tons. So, 66,000 barrels amount to 11 million litres. If you cost it in today’s oil price, it is in the region of N1bn on board,” Jubril said.
He called on oil-bearing communities to always synergise with the Navy and report such nefarious activities to the relevant authorities, stressing that such activities had multiple negative effects on their health, environment and the economy of the country.
He warned oil criminals to desist from unwholesome activities, saying the Central Naval Command was battle ready to stamp out all forms of oil–related theft in the states under its charge.
“This area falls under the jurisdiction of the CNC and the Flag Officer Commanding, CNC, has expressed nil tolerance for illegal activities.
“So, this is a clear warning to all perpetrators of this kind of activities and other people intending to commit crime– that whatever they do and wherever they go to perpetrate this atrocity, we shall catch them.”
The Production Supervisor of the vessel, Meshach Onofighara, argued that their mission was not illegal, saying they had all the documents for the well testing.
Meshach, who is an engineer, said, “I am the production supervisor for this well testing. What we are doing here is not illegal because we have all documents for the well testing with us.
“However, I cannot say whether it is legal or illegal. I do not have the details and I am not familiar with what is illegal. When you are doing testing, you are expected to have crude oil from the well.”