In line with the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ette Ibas’s, zero tolerance for crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism, the operatives of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft, yesterday smashed a cross-border vandalism syndicate.
The navy in one of its midnight patrols at Tongeji Island, off the boundary between Benin Republic and Nigeria had stumbled on the suspects attempting to smuggle over 2,000 kegs of 25 litres each of stolen products, containing approximately 50,000 litres of fuel.
THISDAY gathered that the syndicate specialises in smuggling either vandalised pipelines or buying from other vandals, before sailing across the border to sell at a higher price to their respective customers.
Speaking with THISDAY at the naval base in Apapa, Lagos, NNS Beecroft Commander, Commodore Abraham Adaji, said these recent arrests came on the heels of the recovered 218 kegs of 25 litres each, which were handed over to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) on Friday.
He said, “You will recall that we handed over 218 kegs of 25 litres each of stolen products. Today (Saturday), we offloaded three wooden boats and we recovered about 2000 kegs, each of 25 litres capacity fully laden with Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS).
“The products were recovered from Tongeji Island, around the Badagry axis on the fringes of Nigeria’s Western border with Republic of Benin.
No suspect was arrested because the occupants of the boat who were moving towards Badagry fled and abandoned the products with the wooden boats upon sighting the navy patrol boats. They jumped into the water and swam to safety.”
On why the navy hasn’t stationed some personnel to man the area given the propensity for such illegalities in the area, he said, “Our men are stationed there and that is why we have been able to make these recoveries. They arrested the boats and sent it to the base here in Lagos.”
Speaking on why the suspects escaped, Adaji said, “It’s not a question of not being there, what happens is that no matter how close a navy boat is, once they sight it, they have two options – wait with what they are carrying and get arrested or abandon the products and jump into the water, which most of them do. This is because they know that their enterprise is illegal. The recoveries were made at the wee hours of Friday at about 12.25am.
“It is premature to say where the products are from but from they have no basis to transport these products in that quantity and that is why they always abandon the products and flee whenever they come in contact with law enforcement agencies.
“We have had issues with pipeline vandalism and illegal refining of crude oil and the navy is all out to make sure that this is brought to an end. That is why we have intensified our patrols not just in the immediate Lagos area but also to the fringes of our borders.”
Explaining what the cartel does Adaji said, “Nigerians are not aware that there is a very big price difference between the cost of petrol in the nation and at the neighbouring countries.
“Petrol sells much higher at neighbouring countries and this price difference is enough incentive for criminals who want to evade the law and appropriate channels to smuggle petroleum products.
“I wouldn’t say directly that these are products of pipeline vandalism, but these products are most likely meant for local consumption in Nigeria, which people (suspects) have gotten and taken out to sell at high cost without passing through appropriate channels.”