Operatives of a private security agent – Tanita Security Services, have intercepted a vessel carrying crude oil suspected to have been stolen in the Koko area of Delta State.
The 1,117 tons vessel carrying about 8,100 barrels of crude and was escorted by some naval officers was reportedly intercepted on Wednesday, Channels Television reports.
It was gathered that Tanita Security Services which is owned by an ex-Niger Delta agitator, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, who recently got a contract from the Nigerian Government to protect oil pipelines, said that the vessel tagged MT Praisel, was flying a Togolese flag and was being escorted by a Navy boat led by a senior naval commander.
The Tanita operatives said there was resistance from the navy boat escorting the vessel and that the naval commander threatened to ‘deal’ with them. But the private operatives said they refused to back down, and they contacted the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu and the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla, who authorised them to inspect the vessel, according to Channels Television.
According to the Tanita operatives, upon entrance into the ship, they noticed that the vessel was authorised to carry products by the navy but did not have any approvals from Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), the authority responsible for the regulation of the midstream and downstream petroleum operations in Nigeria, for the said voyage.
It had been reported how Owombo Segun John, a Customs officer was arrested and detained in November 2022 for exposing how refined petroleum products, particularly Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol, were being trafficked to Cameroon, Chad, Niger Republic, and other African countries.
In November 2019, the Nigeria Customs Service announced a directive that restricted petroleum products from being supplied to fuel stations within 20 kilometres of the borders.
Prior to that, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company raised the alarm about the increasing number of filling stations in border towns, saying they were funnels for fuel smuggling to neighbouring countries.
According to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW), a German public state-owned international broadcaster, smugglers were having a field day selling Nigerian fuel at cheaper rates than the conventional petrol stations in Cameroon.
The DW report noted that although the exact volume of smuggled Nigerian petrol to Cameroon was not known, local media reports in Cameroon put the ‘black market’ illegal trade at $5 million (about N1.905 billion) every year.
According to a survey by the German media in Maroua, the capital city of the Far North region of Cameroon, stolen fuel from neighbouring Nigeria was readily available for sale.
Even when Nigerians were faced with shortages, it was learnt that the supply was constant in Cameroon.
In August 2022, Timipre Sylva, the then-Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, estimated that every day, over 400,000 barrels of crude were stolen in Nigeria.
According to Sylva, massive crude oil theft was affecting Nigeria’s ability to meet OPEC’s daily quota.
Sylva was the junior petroleum resources minister while then-President Muhammadu Buhari was the senior petroleum resources minister.
The Nigerian government in May announced the removal of subsidy of petrol, lamenting that a cabal was benefiting from it by smuggling the product to neighbouring countries where the cost was higher to sell.