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Global Affairs Magazine
Crime

Crude Oil Theft: How oil barons use vessel captains, crew members as guinea pigs

Crude Oil Theft: How oil barons use vessel captains, crew members as guinea pigs
  • PublishedFebruary 10, 2024

Masquerading oil barons for many years, the crude oil cartel exploiting the country has camouflaged itself so that nobody knows the powers behind the powerful syndicate.

People hear and read about the arrest of foot soldiers working for the syndicate, especially captains\crews of light-fingered vessels, and the boys “cooking” crude oil in the camps owned by the sponsors in the creeks of Niger Delta.

But nothing happens to the oil barons.

They have so cloaked their identities and control center that each time security agents destroy illegal crude oil refineries, and seize vessels engaged in unlawful oil bunkering, the common catchphrase is “Niger Delta boys are at it again.”

However, it is no longer in doubt that the real people behind oil theft in the country are not the “boys” often caught “cooking” crude oil. They are important personalities known to the government and the security agencies, and who have remained untouchable till date.

Buhari govt. failed to name sponsors

Speaking in a media program in August 2022, Mallam Garba Shehu, then Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to ex-President Muhammadu Buhari, swore that the Federal Government would soon reveal the identities of important personalities behind oil theft in the country.

His words: “I am hopeful that in the next few days, the office of the National Security Adviser will be presenting to the country, big men who are promoters of this kind of business as they are being caught and illegal refineries are being bombed out.”

Buhari left office 10 months after on May 29, 2023, but his government did not reveal the names, as Shehu boasted.

Dokubo-Asari dared by Navy

Prominent Niger Delta agitator and leader, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, in June, last year, after he met with President Bola Tinubu, in Abuja, alleged that 99 percent of oil theft incidents recorded in the oil-rich region were traceable to the Nigerian Army and Navy.

”The military is at the center of oil theft, and we have to make this very clear to the Nigerian public that 99 percent of oil theft can be traced to the Nigerian military, the Army, and the Navy especially.

”I also want to say that oil theft is encouraged by the military. The Army and the Navy intimidate the (Nigeria Security and) Civil Defence (Corps), who are by status the people supposed to guard these pipelines. They receive a lot of money from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPCL, and the International Oil Companies, IOCs, and just across the corner, you will see a Houseboat.

”A few meters from the Houseboat, you will see an oil bunkering refinery tapping directly from oil well ends. It is very pathetic now. What is happening in the Niger Delta in the past eight years was unprecedented in the history of oil production anywhere in the world,” Dokubo-Asari said.

The Spokesperson for the Navy, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, and his counterpart in the Army, Brigadier-Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, instantaneously dismissed the accusations.

Ayo-Vaughan specifically dared Dokubo to provide evidence to substantiate his claim, disclosing that the latest operation by the service saved the country from losing N71bn to oil thieves as of June 2, 2023.

He said, ”Also, it is allegedly stolen from offshore at sea. We have been fighting crude oil theft, taking it to the creeks. If Dokubo is claiming that there is a cabal of military personnel involved in oil theft, let him bring their names.”

On his part, Nwachukwu said, “The Nigerian Army has zero tolerance for any compromise on the part of our troops and will not condone such acts of economic sabotage. No black sheep will be spared if identified.”

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It was not clear whether the Navy expected Dokubo-Asari, a civilian, to name military officers involved in illegal oil bunkering. Still, Niger Delta leaders, who spoke to newmen, advised the agitator not to mention names for his safety, especially if the Nigerian security was not interested in exposing military men involved in oil bunkering.

Big men, top security men involved – Security expert

A security expert, who spoke with newsmen, during the week, said: ”There are big men sponsoring oil theft, and top security men are involved in this bunkering. Because they are involved, they provide a protection racket for the oil thieves.

“There is no way you can load a vessel without settling the security that is within that environment. You see three gunboats at different locations and between them, people are loading crude oil, could they have done that without settling the security operatives?

”The good thing now is that there is a clear indication that illegal oil bunkering is reducing with the participation of private security contractors, especially Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, in pipeline surveillance and intelligence gathering.”

We reliably learned that knowledgeable security officials are afraid to expose the sponsors of oil theft because of the danger to their lives, and the commanding authority of the personalities.

When ex-militant leader and Chairman of TSSNL, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, and his company allegedly “stepped on the toes” of the oil cabal with his gallant exposure of the illegal tapping points connected to the national export lines, and illegal underwater loading platforms, that led to the capture of some thieving vessels, they threatened TSSNL operations.

This was after several attempts to compromise Tompolo and his men failed.

They subsequently launched a campaign against the renewal of his contract by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL, which the Group Chief Executive Officer, GCEO, Dr. Mele Kyari, discounted.

Modus Operandi

The modus operandi of the crude oil sponsors is disguised but not mysterious. Sources said that the key players have their tactical command centers in Lagos and Abuja where they operate from.

While the oil cabal operates mainly from Lagos, the ones that press the button whenever trouble rears up, and ensure that any matter arising does not escalate, and backfire are positioned in Abuja.

Our findings in the arrest of some thieving vessels in the Niger Delta showed that the innocuous captains and crew members of vessels arrested for oil theft, including villagers, that were hired to load crude oil, were mostly dispatched by the sponsors in Lagos.

They are guinea pigs used to test the waters, and the sponsors are quick to “sacrifice” them whenever they land in trouble.

MT Kali took off from Lagos

The Captain of MT Kali, impounded with about 119,000 metric tonnes of crude oil, January, in Bayelsa State, Adeboye, tricked by the cabal, gave an insight into how it operates.

It was noticeable from his interaction with reporters that he did not know that the actual owners of the vessel carefully covered their tracks, using treachery, and intermediaries for the illegal business.

Operatives of TSSNL, who followed the scent of the vessel with IMO No. 8782800, weighing 3,000 tons, in collaboration with the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, apprehended Adeboye, and 23 other suspects, including crew members and community workers at 12:25 am on Thursday 11th January, 2024.

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Adeboye disclosed that one Captain Niyi from Lagos mandated him from Lagos State to Bayelsa State to load Automotive Gas Oil (diesel) but could not explain how the vessel was laden with crude oil.

“The boat had been in Lagos for more than a year, they were doing some maintenance on it. So when we came out, we were instructed to test run the two engines for like 10 miles, and after 10 miles, if we certify that it could go as far as Bayelsa, we should let them know.

“So after the test run for two hours, I got to them that one of the engines was not too good but we could manage it, so they gave us instruction that we should go to Bayelsa, at Pennington, that we were going to bring back AGO.

“So that was the instruction given to us and the agent (Gabriel), who is supposed to connect us to where we would load the diesel. I did not know much. So, when I got there, I dropped anchor and spoke with the agent, who also confirmed even in his statement that it was AGO that was originally planned for us to load.

“So at which point it turned to be crude oil that’s what I am battling to figure out,” he stated.

Adeboye, however, narrated that the agent brought the boys that loaded the vessel with crude oil.

In his words: “It was the agent that brought the boys, so when I saw them. I said that is okay. I tried to reach the management but because of where we were, the network was not good.”

MT Harbor Spirit also proceeded from Lagos

In the most recent arrest of a Moldova Sea Cargo, MT Harbor Spirit, laden with over 80,000 liters of crude oil, the Captain, Joseph Shittu, unmindful of the gravity of the crime by the 12-man Nigerian crew, said his employers sent him from Lagos to load sludge crude oil in Bayelsa State.

It was also palpable that he and the crew were just hungry Nigerians looking for their daily bread, but tricked by oil barons.

The Tantita operatives, soldiers, and NSCDC swooped on them at the time they were contemplating abandoning the deal with their sponsors.

Shittu said: “We were apprehended at the loading point in Sagana by the Tantita boys and the Civil Defence because even though we were not happy with the operation, we were trying to find our way to go down before they came.

“We wanted out because of the place they took us to; we were not pleased with the place, but to get boats from there was difficult. They sent a boat later on, but the boatman told us he did not have fuel; and that we should give him time to 2.00 am or 3.00 am so that we could proceed

“It did not get to 30 seconds before we put our bags into the boat to disembark from the vessel that we were apprehended.

“Immediately, three of my crew jumped into the water and I have not heard from them, I do not even know where they are. We are just a crew, we are Nigerians; it is what we want to eat – that is all we are looking for. That is the reason we were employed on board this vessel, we are family men.

“I was employed by Jojo Oil and Gas in Lagos, the instruction is that we should go and load sludge crude oil from a barge. On our way, they told us that one person would come on board, which is a supercargo or pilot, but I do not know.

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“When we got to the deep sea, they told us that we should stand by; that the vessel was not ready. That a pilot was on board that would take us to the place of loading, and we were not pleased with it. We are not pleased with it. And we told them, which was the reason that we wanted to disembark. Unfortunately, we were arrested.”

Navy, Army Tantita, others join forces —Enisuoh

From the information made available to newsmen, the Navy, Army, NSCDC, DSS, Tantita and other private security contractors have started synergizing to combat oil theft, following the stringent instructions of the Chief of Defense Staff, General Christopher Musa.

Chief Operations Officer of TSSNL, Captain Warredi Enisuoh, who briefed reporters at Oporoza, where the impounded vessel was paraded, Tuesday, confirmed that General Musa had given strict instruction on collaborative efforts by the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy, Police, NSCDC, and the DSS to bring to the barest minimum, if not eliminate illegal oil bunkering.

“What you see here today is a result of that instruction and order, heavily supported by the Chief of Naval Staff…

“This ship was sought by law enforcement agents for a while, and not today, not yesterday. Quite a while back, it is not a Nigerian-registered ship. It is a Moldovan ship. However, the crew members are Nigerians.

“The Inspector General of Police has set up a special team to investigate the ship. The whole idea is to drill down to the sponsors of the ship and those who have been using the ship to perpetrate crimes against the country.

“Now, this ship was monitored specifically by the Nigerian Navy as well as us, too. And it came close a lot for apprehension on this particular day, just about two days ago, precisely in the early hours of Sunday.

“Our detection systems found it nosing around Sagana oil fields Bayelsa and what had happened there was that we swung into action, and discovered that they made a fast one on the oil platforms there. And let me put on record that they cooperated and we were able to apprehend and arrest them.

“So we have taken soundings of the contents, but the estimate is that it has got about 80,000 liters and not that we could not have allowed it to take more, but that is not the objective. The objective is to prevent them from doing that so what they do is they show their motive and intention.”

Connection between oil baron and prospective pipeline contractor

Before now, the NNPCL had a security report, showing the name of an oil baron that sponsored an oil theft botched, last year, by Tantita in Ondo State.

The report informed that the sponsor was connected and working with one of the persons approaching the NNPCL for a pipeline security contract.

The sponsor, according to the security report, “works with an expert living in Benin, specialized in tampering with Well Jackets for illegal off-take by ships.”

Captain Enisuoh of Tantita, which burst the Ondo theft, last December, said then: “We are currently on his trail. While Tantita Security Services will continue to lay siege and monitor the situation as it unfolds in addition to the whereabouts of the Well Jacket Engineer, with an update.”

Written By
Regina Robinson

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