THE Nigerian Navy has said suspected oil thieves took to their heels and abandoned about 1.8 million litres of crude oil believed to have been stolen from pipelines.
The Executive Officer, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, Capt. Victor Choji, showed the seized crude oil to newsmen on Friday in Onne, Rivers.
Choji said that the abandoned petroleum product was stored inside a vessel, MT Anton, which anchored at Sam Bartholomew Waterways in Onne.“On Feb. 26 at about 5:50 hours, troops of NNS Pathfinder deployed for anti-crude oil and illegal bunkering patrols intercepted a vessel, MT Anton, at Sam Bartholomew Rivers.
“MT Anton’s crew members, sighting advancing naval patrol gunboats, abandoned the vessel about the time troops arrived,” he said.
The naval officer said that the vessel’s abandonment indicated progress in the fight against criminality in the nation’s maritime environment.
“Troops later boarded the vessel and found it laden with about 1,800 metric tonnes (1.8 million litres) of suspected stolen crude oil.
“The vessel has been in our custody undergoing preliminary investigation.
“We have also been waiting for someone to come forward and claim ownership of the large vessel,” he said.
Choji said that no individual or company had come to claim the vessel since it was seized by troops.
He said that information available to naval investigators had been sketchy and inadequate to determine whom the vessel was registered to or where it was registered.
According to him, the navy has since discovered that some oil thieves now change their identities to beat security checks.
“Some of the vessels have a way of changing and mutating their identities especially when they want to get involved in illegalities.
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“It is interesting to us that owners of the vessel are willing to abandon an expensive asset like a vessel for fear of what will happen, if they are arrested.
“We will remain dogged, firm and resolute in our campaign against crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and other forms of illegalities within the Rivers State maritime domain,” he said.Choji handed over the vessel to operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to carry out further investigation to unravel its ownership.