… Hands over arrested vessels, crew to EFCC, DPR
By Philip Nwosu
The fight against illegalities on Nigerian waters by the Nigerian Navy has gathered momentum. The force recently arrested several vessels transporting stolen oils or fishing illegally in Nigerian waters.
But the war, it was learnt, is becoming too difficult to continue, as ship owners are seeking loopholes in the maritime laws to sue the Nigerian Navy. They are suing the force for arresting and keeping their vessels.
Some, it was gathered are suing for neglect and failure of the force to provide adequate storage for their product.
One of such vessel owners that have dragged the Navy to court is the owner of MT VINE, a Merchant Tanker which was arrested at the SB Bakare Jetty in Kirikiri Town.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command Rear Admiral Sylvanus Abbah said MT VINE was arrested on June 9 on arrival at SB BAKARE Jetty, Kirikiri in Lagos to discharge products.
He said: “During the arrest, it was observed that the flash point of the product was higher than that specified by DPR and SON. More so, 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 as against the 400MT quantity authorized.”
But he insisted that the force would not be deterred by law suits and would carry out its duties as specified by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Abbah reiterated that the navy, in its renewed efforts to curb maritime illegalities, will not tolerate any fraudulent activities in the nation’s maritime environment.
“The command has zero tolerance for every form of criminality in its area of responsibility and advises defaulters to desist from such acts or face the wrath of the law,’’ Abbah warned.
He gave the warning while handing over six vessels that have flouted the rules and were caught illegally fishing within the country’s territorial waters without authorization.
Two of the vessels were caught with a huge quantity of crude oil suspected to have been stolen from the country’s oil wells.
The flag officer said the arrest was the result of the new vigour of the operatives of the Western Naval Command to rid its territory of sea criminals and the directives by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, in compliance with the harmonized standards operating procedures on arrest, detention and prosecution of vessels and persons in Nigeria.
Some stakeholders in the maritime sector have applauded the navy, urging the force to continue the war against suspected economic saboteurs who have continued to pilfer from the nation’s common purse.
Many have noted that the war, which gathered momentum since the assumption of Rear Admiral Sylvanus Abbah as the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command, has started yielding fruits, with the arrest of over ten vessels within two months.
The vessels have been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) whose officials come to Western Naval Command headquarters every day to take over arrested vessels.
Investigations reveal that every week, the Western Naval Command’s operational arm, the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) BEECROFT, impounded vessels alleged to have contravened the countries maritime regulation or have scooped oil illegally from the country’s oil well.
Recently, it was a massive catch, as naval operatives attached to the Western Naval Command hauled in a large number of fishing trawlers and oil tankers who contravened the country’s maritime laws.
The vessels, which were identified as MV SISI COMFORT 1, MT DACHRIS, ANQI1, ANQI2, ANQI3 AND ANQI4 according to the Nigerian Navy, were caught on the wrong side of the law before their arrest.
The Navy said the vessels with a combined crew of 79, including 28 Chinese nationals, three Ghanaian and 48 Nigerians, were caught with 34,000 litres of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) and 154,280 kilogramme of fishes and another unquantifiable number of loose fishes alleged to have got from Nigerian waters.
For the Navy, fishing in Nigeria is not an offence, but those involved in fishing must do the right things and play by the rules of the game.
For instance, Admiral Abbah said that when the four fishing trawlers and two oil tankers were arrested, what was discovered on board raised further doubts on the activities of the vessels, hence the naval personnel had to carry out further investigations to ascertain the vessel’s dealings at sea.
He said that vessels were not playing by the rules, adding that the ship’s Automatic Identification System was found to be constantly off constituting a navigational and safety offence. And when proper investigations were conducted around them, it was discovered that the vessel was operating with invalid documents.
He said: “On August 27, our personnel on routine patrol intercepted and arrested four fishing trawlers. They were arrested fishing in prohibited areas with catches of 3.100 kilogrammes, 3,420kg, and 77,860kg and several kilogrammes of loose fishes.
“On interrogation, it was discovered that the vessels were not listed on the July –August bi-monthly edition of the Nigerian Navy code word for fishing and trawling vessels at sea.
“The vessels also did not produce relevant operating document as requested by the Nigerian Navy. They were clear indications that the vessels were engaged in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in Nigerian waters.”
Before the fishing trawlers were arrested, two oil tankers also fell into the trap laid by the force at sea.
The vessels, indentified as MV Sisi Comfort 1 and MT DACHRIS, according to the navy, were caught lurking around ABO oil field and efforts made to raise the vessel on radio proved abortive, as they refused to respond.
Accordingly it was learnt, personnel of the Navy kept track of the vessel until they finally responded to the call and subsequently arrested.
When investigated, it was discovered to have about 34,000 litres of Automated Gas Oil (AGO) in its storage tank which the ship’s crew claimed they pumped from their bunker tank to the storage tank to balance the ship, especially as it was taking in water from its rudder.
Still not clear about the vessel, naval operatives, it was learnt, requested for the document authorizing it to carry AGO, but they were unable to provide that.
While handing over the impounded vessels and crew to other agencies for further investigation and prosecution, The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command warned that the navy would not tolerate criminal activities at sea.
The four fishing trawlers were handed over to the Federal Department of Fisheries, while the two oil vessels were handed over to the Economic Financial and Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Nigerian Maritime Management and Administration Agency (NIMASA) respectively.
Apart from these arrests, several other vessels, especially oil tankers caught with stolen oil have been arrested.
The most striking arrest was that of MT WOLOF, an oil tanker caught with over 300,000 litres of AGO allegedly stolen from the Niger Delta.
The Navy said the product on the vessel was illegally refined AGO from unauthorized refineries in the Niger Delta.
The vessel was impounded on June 30, 2017 and samples of the product in her tanks were taken for laboratory tests and it was discovered that the product did not meet the specification of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria and that of the Department of Petroleum Resource (DPR).
The Commander of the NNS BEECROFT Commodore Maurice Eno, while handing over the vessel to the EFCC operatives led by the Head of Extractive Industry Fraud Section, Mr. Idris Abdullahi Abubakar said that NNS BEECROFT patrol team intercepted and arrested MT WOLOF around the Lagos Safe Anchorage Area (LSAA).
His words: “At the time of the arrest, MT WOLOF was loaded with about 300metric tons of product suspected to be illegally refined Automated Gas Oil (AGO) and had seven crew members onboard. Investigation revealed that the vessel had no document to support the product it was carrying.”
He explained that following this development and the inability of the vessel to show it has authorization to carry the product found in its possession; the vessel was handed over to the EFCC for further investigation and possible prosecution.
Eno reiterated that the navy, in its renewed efforts to curb maritime domain of illegalities, would not tolerate any fraudulent activities in the nation’s maritime environment.