Minister of Transport, Idris Umar
By John Iwori
The Nigerian Navy personnel in the Maritime Guards Command, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has intercepted and arrested a vessel, MT Floris carrying 185 tons (about over 200,000 litres, suspected to be illegally refined Automative Gas Oil (AGO) on board.
The vessel with an 11 man crew was intercepted while the officials of the agency were on routine patrol of the Lagos anchorage at the weekend.
A statement issued by the agency and signed by its Deputy Director and Head, Public Relations, Hajia Lami Tumaka said the Naval personnel attached to the Maritime Guard Command, NIMASA, were suspicious of the 200 ton vessel when in the course of routine checks, its captain could not produce any papers stating the product it was carrying, point of loading and discharge destination.
It stated that during questioning at Maritime House, the Corporate Headquarters of NIMASA, Apapa, Lagos, the captain of the vessel, Mr. Martins Odedele confirmed the illegality of the transaction, but claimed that he was an emergency captain and so was unaware of the illegality of the trip until he got to the location.
“I have been in school for about a year now and just came back last week. I was asked by the owner of the vessel to be the emergency captain and was given the coordinates to get to the location which I accepted in order to get some money for the family’s upkeep.
“I never knew it was an illegal transaction until we got there and it was too late for me to disembark as I had to captain the vessel back to Lagos. I was going to disembark and go away before your men arrested us”, Odedele said.
The captain who said the vessel is owned by Jowal Dreams Marine Limited also confirmed that it was the owner of the company, Hon. Joshua Adewale that sent them on the mission. Efforts to contact Adewale as at press time were unsuccessful.
Further investigations revealed that the product was loaded at Akassa, a community near Brass in Bayelsa State obviously from an illegal refining facility as the density of the AGO and its flashpoint are well below standard.
Odedele and the Chief Engineer of the vessel, Mr. Alex Ebinum have been taken to the Naval Base in Apapa pending further investigations while the vessel and the other nine crew members are being detained by officers of the Maritime Guards Command at the Lagos anchorage.
It was gathered that the tide of illegal refining activities has been increasing with its attendant loss of revenue to the government. Investigations show that these illegal refineries get their crude by bunkering oil facilities and this illegal business continues to flourish because there are ready buyers.
The apex maritime regulatory agency, however, said it was poised to stem this tide by ensuring that all illegal activities in Nigeria’s maritime domain are checked.
It added that it will continue to enforce its mandate with the aim of curbing illegal and criminal activities in the nation’s waters.
By the provisions of the NIMASA Act 2007, the agency is responsible for the administration of maritime safety in the country has powers to arrest ships, non convention vessels and small crafts suspected of carrying out illegal activities.