Oil theft: Navy clears air on arrested vessel, MV CECELIA

By Sumaila Ogbaje

The Nigerian Navy (NN) says the Merchant Vessel (MV) CECELIA arrested on Aug. 15 at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, was carrying illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO).

The Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, said this in a statement on Sunday in Abuja.

Ayo-Vaughan said the claim by the alleged owner of the vessel that it vessel was seized and burnt by the navy was spurious and baseless.

“For the avoidance of doubt and to set the records straight, MV CECELIA has been a vessel of interest and was being tracked for allegations of oil theft.

“The vessel was arrested on Aug. 15 with products suspected to be illegally refined AGO at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State following an operation by the Naval Component of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS).

“A press interview was conducted immediately after the arrest; however, the owners of the vessel remained at large.

“Subsequently, the sample of the products onboard the vessel was taken for laboratory analysis and it was discovered to be illicit AGO,” he said.

The Navy spokesman said the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with extant procedure.

Ayo-Vaughan noted that the behaviour of the alleged owner was not surprising, as it had been the practice among oil thieves.

According to him, in some cases when vessels involved in oil theft are arrested, the owners abscond leaving the Nigerian Navy to bear the cost of keeping and sustaining it.

This, he added, had cost the nation huge sums of money and constituted serious national security problems.

He added that most of the vessels either sink alongside the jetty or within the channel constituting serious navigational hazards.

Ayo-Vaughan said that cases of abandoned vessels had been the major reason why the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the past, declared the nation’s ports and waterways the most unsafe in the region.

This, according to him, contribute to the high insurance premium on ships operating in Nigerian waters with negative impact on the nation’s economy.

He said that the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and the navy had expended huge sums of money in clearing such wrecks.

Ayo-Vaughan said that MV CECELIA, which had not been operational for about two years, was laden with about 250,000 litres of illicit AGO at the time of the arrest.

He said that the three suspects so far arrested had made useful statements, while the alleged owners remained at large.

According to him, the vessel has no NNPCL or any other regulatory approval to serve as an AGO storage facility.

According to him, one of the suspects revealed that they usually bring illegally refined AGO in large wooden boats and Geepee tanks and offload into MV CECELIA.

“It is unfortunate that this practice has been on without being detected until the recent re-invigorated intelligence-led operations by OPDS and the NN.

“The arrest of MV CECELIA is therefore a milestone achievement in the renewed drive to rid the Niger Delta of the illicit crime of oil theft.

“Accordingly, the NN and OPDS will not be hindered by the usual antics of the oil thieves.

“These sometimes include the owners claiming ignorance of the use of their vessels for illegalities.

“The NN and OPDS remain law abiding and will continue to carry out its statutory roles of fighting oil theft including destruction of platforms used to carry out the illegalities in line with extant Presidential directives.

“The general public should be informed that the NN and OPDS is on the look out to arrest the criminals who conduct these crimes and abandon their vessels,” he said. (NAN)