Tony John, Port Harcourt
The Nigerian Navy said it has handed over a suspected illicit vessel back to its owner without conclusion of investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Acting Commanding Officer, Forward Operating Base, Bonny, Commodore Ibrahim Gwaska, told newsmen on Sunday, during handover of the damaged vessel, MV OGO OLUWA, to its owner, Azamusa Nigeria Limited, in Bonny, Rivers State.
Commodore Gwaska said the Navy decided to release the vessel following concerns that 5.69 million litres of diesel stored inside the vessel could be spilled into the sea, as the vessel had started taking in water.
According to him, the release would enable owner of the vessel to immediately commence repairs of the damaged parts of the vessel.
Gwaska said: “This release is premised due to the excessive leakages of the vessel’s hull and too much intake of water that could eventually lead to her sinking.
“We took this decision to avoid spillage of the petroleum product into the sea that could lead to degradation of the environment.
READ ALSO: 41 prison inmates regain freedom in Ebonyi
“The owner of vessel will take custody of the vessel pending conclusion of investigation by the EFCC,” he said.
Gwaska further said that Navy would continue to take proactive steps to prevent criminals from indulging in activities that would damage maritime environment in the Niger Delta.
The commanding officer told newsmen that Naval troops had intercepted the vessel in April 6, with suspected stolen 5.69 million litres of diesel worth N1.17 billion.
He said that six smugglers onboard the vessel were immediately detained and later handed over to EFCC to conduct investigation into the matter.
“Troops sighted the vessel discreetly moving along the channel with its navigation lights and Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched off to avoid detection by the Navy
“The crew members onboard the vessel thought that we could not see the vessel, but unknown to them, we were still able to the monitor movement of the suspected illicit vessel via our radar.
“After boarding the vessel, we demanded for the vessel’s permit to lift the diesel, but no document was provided to us. Thereafter, we arrested them and later handed them to EFCC,” he said.
Gwaska said it was a crime to transport petroleum products without permit and to navigate the waterways without navigation light switched on at night.
Ms Florance Ajiwaiye took the vessel on behalf of the company, Azamusa Limited, promising to fast track repairs of the vessel’s damaged compartment to avoid sinking.