Following the hijack of MT APECUS, with five Indian nationals and two Nigerians on board, the Nigerian Navy (NN) authorities on Tuesday said that the vessel was on an illegal and unauthorised mission to the nation’s territorial waters to steal crude.
Consequently, the navy said it had commenced manhunt for the Nigerian collaborators who aided the illegal entrance of the vessel and its crew to the nation’s waterways to carryout the illicit oil deal under false pretence.
While claiming that the said vessel had been involved in series of criminal activities on the nation’s waterways since 2014, the naval authorities noted that the vessel had operated all those years without a valid permit or documentation.
Reacting to the report in a statement made available to THISDAY, the navy assured that no stone would be left unturned in ensuring that the Nigerian collaborators behind this dastardly act were brought to face justice to serve as deterrent to others.
The statement read in part; “The Nigerian Navy has been inundated with reports relating to the suspected hijack of a Palau flagged Tanker, MT APECUS, off the coast of Bonny, Nigeria’s territorial waters”.
“The alleged hijack of the vessel with IMO No. 7333810 and Call Sign No. T8WU, occurred on the 19th of April 2019 resulting in the alleged abduction of seven crew members comprising five Indian nationals and two Nigerians”.
“The report indicated that the five Indians were released by their abductors. It will be recalled that in a press release, NIMASA alluded to the vessel’s involvement in criminality within Nigerian waters”.
“This was based on the fact that the vessel had been conducting trading activities in Nigerian waters since 2014 without valid permits or documentation”.
“NIMASA also observed that the vessel has changed name and the flag under which the vessel operated at least 15 times since 1993 and made four MMSI changes which all point to her suspected involvement in illegal activities”.
“Contrary to the claims by the owners of the vessel, the NPA Bonny Harbour Master confirmed that NPA was unaware of any request for MT APECUS to come into harbour.
“Furthermore, it was difficult to ascertain the past movement of the vessel as her AIS was often switched off for weeks, contrary to standard practice”.
“These developments are considered deliberate acts to avoid detection. Investigations by the Nigerian Navy led to the arrest and interrogation of one Mr Osimili Adah the agent of the vessel who confessed to have been involved in the plans to use MT APECUS to lift crude oil illegally from Nigeria”.
“Mr Adah had since been handed over to the NPF for further investigation and prosecution. These facts and other information available point to the fact that the alleged attack on the vessel was as a result of a business disagreement between parties engaged in crude oil theft”.
“Notwithstanding, the Nigerian Navy remains committed to curbing the menace of crude oil theft and other forms of illegalities in Nigeria’s and the larger Gulf of Guinea maritime domain.”
“To this end, the service is making necessary efforts to track and debrief the released crew with the view to obtaining intelligence for future operations towards the arrest of other collaborators in this saga.”