… As impounded vessels under EFCC custody spill fuel on waterways
By Phillip Nwosu
These days, the Kirikiri end of the Lagos Lagoon has been attracting visitors. On daily basis, many watch with dismay as impounded vessels allegedly handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) litter the waterways.
The vessels are also spilling petroleum products all around the waters of Kirikiri, causing environmental hazards and killing aquatic life.
The vessels – MT MARIA SOLTAN, MV PSV DERBY – and other merchant tankers without visible means of identification, were allegedly arrested by operatives of the Nigerian Navy attached to the NNS BEECROFT between 2015 and 2016. They were subsequently handed over to the EFCC. But litigations on the vessels and the products have dragged for several months, hampering their forfeiture to the Federal Government.
Commuters travelling to Badagry from the Island, using the waterways have been experiencing difficulty navigating through the area, as most of the vessels are anchored on the route towards Badagry and have also spilled their products, making navigation very risky.
Apart from hampering navigation, the spilled oil on the waterways poses great danger to residents of Kirikiri town and the tank farm owners located close to the sea route. A concerned official of a tank farm observed that a little spark of fire could cause huge damage to public property and lead to loss of lives.
A resident of Kirikiri town told Daily Sun that the spilled fuel was killing the fishing business in the area and was seriously hampering the fishermen. He said the development also posed considerable danger to tank farm operators and Kirikiri residents.
Just by the waterways is the S.B Bakare Jetty, which sits close to Chisco Oil and Gas and Techno Oil Tank farms. Kirikiri Township is also not far away, even as many residents confessed to Daily Sun that they had been living in fear over the danger posed by the spilled petroleum products on the waterways.
Edward Kweku, a boat owner in the area said: “We just woke up to see these vessels anchored here. At first we thought it was for a while, but suddenly, we discovered they were now staying longer and that the ships even have petroleum products stored in them. Some of them have started sinking.”
He said that just as the vessels started taking in water, the petroleum products in them have started spilling around the waters, causing environmental hazards and physical danger to other business owners around the area.
A naval source told Daily Sun that the vessels as well as their products and crew had been handed over to the EFCC, and that the Navy expected the EFCC to have engaged the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to evacuate the products and store them, pending the determination of the court cases against the vessels.
While corroborating this, the Naval authorities urged the EFCC to find a way to evacuate the product for storage, pending the determination of the suit against the owners of the vessels.
NNS Beecroft Naval Base, Lagos in two separate letters dated January 19, 2017 and February 28, 2017 had informed the EFCC of the deteriorating condition of MV PSV DERBY, harping on the urgent need to salvage the vessel and evacuate its contents to avoid sinking.
The letter reads in part: “Please, note that the rate of observed ingress of water into the vessel has now increased at an alarming rate. Consequently, personnel of NNS Beecroft who regularly pump out water from the vessel on a weekly basis now do so 3 times a week due to the rate of ingress. More so, the vessel constitutes considerable risk for our own personnel keeping security duty on-board.”
The letters, it was gathered, were before the vessel started taking in water. But today, the vessels have spilled their products and have eventually gone under and the Navy has withdrawn its personnel from the vessels.
The Commander of the NNS BEECROFT, Commodore Maurice Eno said EFCC should move towards salvaging the vessels immediately to avoid further calamity.
He gave the advice while handing over two vessels – MV SHIRLEY and MT VINE, their crewmembers and 745,000 litres of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) with the street value of nearly N150 million to the EFCC.
Before the vessels were handed over to the EFCC, the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Sylvanus Abbah, gave details of the arrest. He said the vessels were arrested separately by personnel of the Western Naval Command while on routine patrol of its area of responsibility.
Admiral Abbah explained that MV SHIRLEY was caught on April 19, 2017 with 145 metric tons of AGO without valid documents for carrying petroleum products within the country’s waterways, while MT Vines was arrested on June 9, 2017 with 600 metric tons of AGO.
He said the vessels were arrested in line with the directive by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas to rid the Nigerian maritime environment of criminalities, adding that illegalities within the country’s territorial waters such as crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the nation’s maritime environment would no longer be tolerated.
Admiral Abbah said: “Therefore, in line with the directives of the Chief of the Naval Staff Vice Admiral I.E Ibas and in compliance with extant regulations, the two vessels MV SHIRLEY and MT VINE will be handed over to the EFCC today for further investigation and possible prosecution.”
He warned that the Western Naval Command would not tolerate any act of criminality within its area of responsibility, warning persons or group seeking to test the will of the navy to desist from such act.
His word: “The Command has credible information that most of the illegally sourced petroleum products from the Niger Delta find Lagos as the final destination and market. Let me warn that the Western Naval Command has zero tolerance for every form of criminality in its area of responsibility and therefore advises defaulters to desist from such acts.
“The vessel was laden with 145 metric tonnes (MT) of AGO without valid documents for carrying petroleum products in Nigerian waters.
“Samples of the products were taken for laboratory tests to ascertain its quality. The result did not meet the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and Standard Organisation of Nigeria’s (SON) specification, indicating that the products were illegally refined.
“MT VINE was also arrested on June 9 on arrival at SB BAKARE Jetty, Kirikiri, Lagos, to discharge products.
“During the arrest, it was observed that the flash point of the product was higher than that specified by DPR and SON.
“Moreso, the colour of the product was off DPR standard as indicated by the laboratory analysis.
“The haulage of the vessel was carried out and it was discovered that the vessel was carrying about 600MT of AGO against the 400MT quantity authorised.”
He reiterated that the Navy was determined to curb maritime illegalities and would not tolerate any fraudulent activities in the nation’s maritime environment.
The Commander of NNS BEECROFT, Commodore Maurice Eno led officers of the EFCC, DPR and the media to a jetty in Kirikiri where they handed over the products, the vessel and the crew to the EFCC operatives, led by the Head of Extractive Industry Fraud Section, Idris Abdullahi Abubakar.