The Nigerian Navy has vowed to fish out, arrest, and prosecute fleeing owners of abandoned sea-going vessels arrested for alleged illegal oil bunkering activities.
This is as the Navy insisted that a vessel, ‘MV Cecelia’, set ablaze by its operatives in Rivers State recently was involved in oil theft.
This came over 48 hours after the owner of the vessel (MV Cecelia), Chief Jasper Ako, who is the Managing Director of ‘Soljas Limited’, an oil and gas firm based in Port Harcourt denied culpability in any illicit oil deal.
Chief Ako, while briefing newsmen through his counsel, Augustine Okekudo, in Port Harcourt last Friday said contrary to the claims of the Niger Navy Ship, Pathfinder whose personnel destroyed the vessel, the boat is not a work boat, but an aluminum high-speed crew facility as clearly stated in the NIMASA document
He further said the boat has a 45, 000 litres capacity, not 350, 000 as alleged by the Navy, saying it was shocking that they later destroyed the vessel within a week of its arrest without investigation.
He stated, “The boat is in the Nigerian Navy Memorandum of Understanding as a security boat. The Navy even came to inspect and clear the boat two months ago.”
But the Navy explained that though the vessel had not been put in use for two years, it was being used as a storage tank for illegally refined products, describing the allegations by the owner as unfounded.
This was contained in a statement titled, ‘Unfounded allegation by the alleged owner of merchant vessel Cecelia’ and signed by the Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, AO Ayo-Vaughan, and mde available to our correspondent.
The statement read, “The attention of the Nigerian Navy and Operation Delts Safe has been drawn to the spurious and baseless allegations by the alleged owner of Merchant Vessel MV Cecelia who recently claimed that their vessel was seized and burnt by the NN.
“For the avoidance of doubt and to set the records straight, MV Cecelis has been a vessel of interest and was being tracked for allegations of oil theft.
“The vessel was arrested on 15 August 2023 with products suspected to be illegally refined Automated Gas Oil (Diesel) at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State following an operation by the Naval Component of OPDS.
“However, the owners of the vessel remained at large. Subsequently, the sample of the products onboard the vessel was taken for laboratory analysis and it was discovered to be illicit AGO. Pertinently, the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with extant procedure.”
The NN spokesman said the behaviour of the alleged owner is not surprising, as “it has been the practice among oil thieves.”
Continuing, he said, “In some cases where vessels involved in oil theft are arrested, the owners abscond leaving the NN to bear the cost of keeping and sustaining the vessels.