By; PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
The Nigerian Navy, Forward Operating Base, Ibaka, Mbo Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, has seized a ship and arrested 12 crew members for alleged illegal bunkering of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO).
Six suspects were also arrested in connection with the smuggling of 523 bags of 50kg contraband rice said to be smuggled from the Republic of Cameroon, with three 40 horsepower outboard engines, one pumping machine, one wooden boat and 52 empty plastic drums.
Speaking on Wednesday in Ibaka during the hand-over of the ship, suspects and items to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Nigeria Customs Service, Commanding Officer, FOB, Captain Reginald Adoki said the Navy is committed to ensuring that it works creditably to rid the area of illegal maritime activities.
“This vessel, NV Sword Fish 5 along with 12 crew members was arrested by the Nigerian Navy, Ibaka when our gun boat was carrying out a patrol along the Calabar River. The vessel was arrested while it was conducting illegal bunkering of substance we suspect to be automotive gas oil (AGO), diesel to another platform without due authorisation.
“At the time of arrest, we were able to confirm that the vessel had no approval for the transfer of the product it was conducting at the time and this violates extent regulations as regards movement of petroleum products on Nigeria’s maritime environment.
“While conducting our normal patrol at about 20:40 hours last night along Mbo River, based on intelligence, we were able to arrest a medium sized boat that was loaded with 50kg bags of rice and 6 suspects. We would want to reinstate the continued and unalloyed commitment of the Navy to ensure that we do our work creditably to rid our area of operations of illegal activities,” he stated.
While receiving the ship and 12 suspects from the Navy, Uyo Zonal Head of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Abdukarim Chukkoh said the action of the ship and crew members was economic sabotage and the commission is at the forefront of trying to tackle such crimes.
“The EFCC is a body that is created to investigate cases of economic crime and we see this as economic crime. We can assure you, we are going to take up this matter, to investigate and at the end of our investigation, we are going to charge them to court so that they face the court and the court will do justice. We are very happy with the cooperation of the Nigerian Navy and this is to show that we all work together in trying to achieve our goal,” he said.
Also speaking, the Controller, Eastern Marine Command, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Port Harcourt, Elton Edorhe, through his representative, Assistant Controller, Ali Garko thanked the Nigerian Navy for the synergy, saying the suspects would be duly prosecuted.
He said, ‘I am quite happy that the Navy has been giving us tremendous support in the performance of our duty. We will not relent in taking charge of what is our responsibility. We have 523 bags of rice and 6 suspects, and as the law permits, we will investigate the issue, prosecute the suspects and these items will be confiscated to the Federal Government”.
But the Captain of the seized ship, Capt. Bakpa Yerinmene denied the involvement of his ship and crew in illegal bunkering, saying that they were performing their legitimate duty when they were arrested by the Nigerian Navy on 9th November 2018.
He said, “I was sent to do official work by Addax Petroleum Nigeria Limited, an oil company. Addax Petroleum as a company has XPXO at Calabar offshore. This boat is an anchor handling vessel, platform support, boring support that is the work assistance the vessel provides for the company, being hired by Addax Petroleum. The vessel belongs to Verta Mega Services.
“We were on the field standing by, doing our work, as we were officially sent to go to one of their batch called Agbani Production platform. We went there on 9th November 2018 to go and provide this service, and when we arrived there, we alongside the batch connected the hose as instructed by the Addax Marine Superintendent that we transfer 20 tones of AGO.
“A Navy security boat even escorted us halfway, five miles to the platform. We connected the hose as usual, waiting for instruction from the batch boat but suddenly, we saw another smaller navy patrol boat and two of them came to the wheelers”.
One of the rice suspects, Jerry Julius from ilaje ese-odo local government area in Ondo state confessed that he has lost a lot of money in the business and was sorry that he was arrested for smuggling rice.
“We are always based where there is water because our business is based on water, and everybody is looking for greener pasture. I am sorry that I was arrested because I didn’t know it will end up this way.
“I have been in this business for about three years now but I have never been arrested. I have lost a lot of money and I don’t know how I will survive it. I know my business is smuggling but smuggling cannot be eradicated quickly but it is a gradual process,” he stated.