The Nigerian Navy, on Thursday, announced the seizure of a tug boat and barge laden with 120, 000 litres of stolen diesel worth N20.4 million and arrest five suspects, off the coast of Alakiri Creek in Rivers State.
Commander of the Nigeria Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, Commodore Godwin Ochai, made this known while parading the five suspects before newsmen in Port Harcourt, disclosing that five illegal refineries were also destroyed during a raid.
He said troops also impounded and set ablaze two boats from Cotonou, Benin Republic; three storage tanks and over 500 drums, all containing by-products of illegally refined crude oil during the operation.
Ochai explained that the troops stormed the area shortly after air surveillance spotted the illegal refineries and barge which the operators hid under the tick cover of the mangrove forest.
"NNS Pathfinder which conducts regular patrols within our waterways, on Tuesday, November 25, intercepted a tug boat (MV Yvonne) towing a barge (MV Saviour) carrying 120, 000 litres of product suspected to be stolen crude oil around Alakiri Creek.
"In the course of that (patrol), five suspects were arrested; while some illegal refineries were also sited and set ablaze during that same patrol.
"Also, a boat going to Bonny (Island) which faced sea robbery attacks (by suspected pirates) were repelled (by the Navy troops) and they disappeared into the creeks. Unfortunately, our gunboats couldn't get into the creeks because it is very narrow and shallow creeks,'' he said.
"Criminals should refrain from criminality in our waterways because NNS Pathfinder and other naval units will continue to fish them out; things are (no longer) like before when they (oil thieves) had a free day", he said.
Ochai said the Navy would sustain the intensity of its water and air surveillance to reduce incessant attacks by oil thieves and pipeline vandals on the nation's oil and gas installations.
He also assured that the suspects would be handed over to operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) for further investigation and possible prosecution.
One of the suspects, Mr Frank Emma, claimed the tug boat and barge had documents which cleared it to move products but however failed to respond when asked why the documents had a name different from the names on the tug boat and barge.
A Naval operative, who pleaded anonymity because he was not permitted to speak on the matter, said that some oil thieves usually impersonate other legally approved vessels and barges in a bid to deceive unsuspecting security agents.
He said the Navy was aware of this development and had begun investigation on how oil thieves obtain and replicate legal documents from past approval.