The Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, code- named ‘Operation Pulo Shield’, on Monday arrested 22 Ghanaians and four Nigerians with two vessels containing 1.3 million barrels of stolen crude oil.
The 26 suspects were caught with the vessels – MT OXO and MT ANE – siphoning the crude oil from a manifold that belongs to Shell Petroleum Develop-ment Company (SPDC) in Abonnema area of Rivers State.
Shell recently estimated that $6 billion worth of crude oil is stolen from Nigeria every year, a major loss to the federation purse.
Checks with the military taskforce revealed that the JTF, which made the arrests at Awoba area under the Sector 2 Commander, Brig-Gen. Tukur Buratai, also set the vessels on fire.
Justifying the action, the source said the task force’s action “is in tandem” with the mandate it got from the Defence Headquarters.
A security source, who witnessed the incident, told reporters that a JTF patrol team arrested the men siphoning crude oil from Shell’s Awoba Riser, based on the information received from an intelligence group, CAST surveillance team.
The source, who also said Buratai was on ground to inspect the vessels, further disclosed that all the 22 crew members on board the two vessels were Ghanaians, while the two local captains and two speed boat drivers who were picked up for the assignment from Camp 45, near Bille, were Nigerians.
“At about 0130 hours on May 7, 2012, a JTF special patrol team working on information received from the CAST surveillance team, arrested two vessels while illegally siphoning crude from Awoba Riser.
“The two vessels – MT OXO and MT ANE – were later taken to Abonnema along with the 26 suspects arrested along with them. After the preliminary interrogation of the captains of the vessels and other crew members, the JTF decided to set the vessels on fire. This according to them was the mandate they got from the Defence Headquarters,” he said
The JTF had recently arrested about 200 persons suspected to be behind illegal refineries in Bayelsa and Rivers States.
Buratai said tankers used for the operations were also impounded.
“We have so far arrested over 200 persons involved in this illegal refining as well as illegal oil bunkering and oil theft in Rivers and Bayelsa States.
“We had destroyed almost equal number of illegal refineries in these two states. Also, a number of trailers and tankers have been impounded, appropriately treated and processed for prosecution,” he said.
He added: “We will interrogate all the suspects and after that, we will hand them over to the appropriate government agency for prosecution.
“Since we took over the operation of the JTF, we have been fighting not only the illegal bunkering, but piracy and to some extent, some elements of militancy, which is currently at its lowest ebb.
“As they come up, we strike and ensure that we reduce them (oil theft and illegal refining) to the lowest level and as you can see, our efforts are paying off. The level of crude oil stealing has drastically reduced.”
Buratai said the task force was not restricted to the creeks and waterways around the region, but that it was also operating on land.
He, however, appealed to members of the public not to hesitate in furnishing security agents with useful information that could lead to the arrest of oil thieves and illegal oil refiners.
Though Nigeria’s daily crude oil production is set to hit 2.68million barrels, with the coming on stream of Total’s Usan deepwater field, the Executive Vice-President for Africa, Shell Exploration and Production Africa Limited, Mr. Ian Craig, said recently that 150,000 barrels of crude oil is stolen daily in the country.
Craig acknowledged that at the onshore level, the amnesty programme has had a major impact as security had improved, but pointed out that his company’s production was still below pre-militancy levels.
He noted that crude theft and its associated criminality “drive away talent, both Nigerians and expatriates, increases cost, reduces revenue to both investors and the government and results in major environmental impacts”.
“The volume of oil, which is stolen is difficult to estimate, but is probably in the region of 150,000 barrels per day. By way of illustration, in December last year, a spill was reported on the Nembe Creek Trunkline caused by two foiled bunkering connections. Repairs took a month, with a total production deferment of over 4 million barrels,” he said.