The Forward Operating Base (FOB) of Nigerian Navy, Ibaka in Akwa Ibom State on Wednesday handed over a vessel, NV Sword Fish 5 and 12 crew members allegedly involved in illegal bunkering of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Commanding Officer, FOB, Captain Reginald Adoki while handing over the vessel to the anti-graft agency also disclosed that operatives of the base also impounded one wooden boat with six suspects, ladened with 523 bags of 50kg foreign rice said to be smuggled from the Republic of Cameroon, with three 40 horsepower outboard engines, one pumping machine and 52 empty plastic drums.
According to him, NV Sword Fish 5 along with 12 crew members were arrested along the Calabar River by a naval petrol team.
“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,” he said.
Adoki explained that the arrest of the suspected rice smugglers along Mbo River on Tuesday was based on intelligence gathering.
“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 added.
While receiving the ship and 12 suspects from the Navy, Uyo Zonal Head of EFCC, 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.
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.”
However, the Captain of the impounded vessel, 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, moring 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 tonnes 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.”