The Nigerian Navy with its United States counterparts have intercepted 100 vessels out of which 40 were boarded and 19 suspects arrested in a joint operated tagged “Junction Rain”.
Two of the vessels boarded were arrested for illegal possession of firearms and suspected crude oil theft by the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Centenary and a Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) boat, which were among the nine platforms and two maritime patrol helicopters deployed for the seven-day operation.
Addressing reporters on their return from the high seas on Wednesday, the Officer in Tactical Command of “Junction Rain”, Commodore Dickson Olisemenogor, said nine suspects comprising three Greece nationals, an American and five blacks were arrested aboard a vessel named Sea Angels 3.
He said the other 10 suspects were arrested on the oil barge that claimed to have come from Ghana but was roaming on the seas in a questionable way.
According to Olisemenogor, the vessels, exhibits and suspects, would be handed over to the appropriate agencies for further investigation, prosecution and possible conviction, warning criminals to steer clear of Nigerian waters.
In the course of the operation, he said the navy interrogated over 100 vessels and boarded 40, noting that most criminally-minded ships and boats fled the nation’s western waters to other far countries like South Africa.
He said, “There were nine suspects on the first boat arrested. The boat was looking like a naval boat and when we made initial contact, the captain made us believe that he was in our waters for routine patrol waiting for a merchant vessel.
“He was asked if he was carrying any weapon or other items on board and he denied. We decided to board the vessel for confirmation and discovered that there were five Nigerians, three Greeks and an American. It is not right for the vessel to be having naval colour.
“They did not tell us where they were coming from and that was why we arrested them. They earlier switched off some of the equipment to make it difficult for you to detect them but unfortunately we have the equipment on board to detect whoever is at sea. No criminal can hide again in our waters.
“We saw some weapons there. About four MI-1 rifles, over a thousand rounds of ammunition and some other military kits. They will be handed over to the appropriate agencies for action. It is a good thing that other MDAs participated in this operation with us and we worked as a team for the good of Nigeria.
“What we saw at sea is encouraging. We had other merchant ships calling and congratulating us for keeping the waters safe for their operations.
“That goes to give credence to this operation. In total we were able to interrogate about 100 ships at sea, we boarded about 40 of them which we suspected may have not given us the accurate information and in the process, two were actually arrested.”