(Image Source: This Day)
By Deji Elumoye, Emmanuel Addeh and Kingsley Nwezeh
In furtherance of Operation Dakatar Da Barawo (OPDDB) that was launched to checkmate crude oil theft and related acts of economic sabotage, the Nigerian Navy said it seized 6, 000, 000 litres of stolen crude oil estimated at N264 billion.
This is just as President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday expressed “shock and trauma” about the death of over 100 people in an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in Imo State.
However, there were no report of seized barges and motherships by the Navy, unfortunately, that is where most of the theft occur because these are the means by which stolen crude oil are being transported to international market and sold at far below the market price. And sadly this is occurring right under the nose of the security agencies some of who the government has acknowledged collude with the the criminals to shortchange the country.
Following the alarming increase of crude oil theft, the president had directed the Minister of State, Petroleum
Resources, Mr. Timipre Sylva, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari as well as the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, to ensure that the criminal activity was brought to a halt. Buhari’s directive had followed public outrage against the massive stealing of Nigeria’s crude oil, which had hobbled the country’s ability to meet the quota allocated by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Owing to the directive, the naval troops disclosed that they recorded more arrests and seizures between April 15th and 23rd, 2022, being the third week of the operation.
A statement issued by Naval Headquarters stated that the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) DELTA in Warri, deactivated an Illegal Refining Site (IRS) around Sara creek.
The IRS had 16 ovens, 16 metal storage tanks and three wide pits filled with about 500,000 litres of illegally refined AGO, as well as 700,000 litres of stolen crude oil, a generator and 4 pumping machines.
Also, the statement revealed that an IRS at Asugbo creek in Warri was discovered with six ovens, 12 metal storage tanks and five large pits all containing about 600,000 litres of stolen crude oil including 200,000 litres of illegally refined AGO and about 150,000 litres of sludge.
Similarly, sequel to series of air reconnaissance, Forward Operating Base (FOB) FORMOSO in Bayelsa State on April 19, 2022, raided an IRS at Ereweibio creek in Brass LGA.
Accordingly, seven large cooking ovens, 10 large metal storage tanks and drums all laden with about 400,000 litres of illegally refined AGO and 20,000 litres of suspected illegally refined PMS were discovered.
The site also had five large pits holding approximately 700,000 litres of stolen crude oil. Equally, two pumping machines, one gasoline generator, one submersible pump and one chainsaw machine were discovered at the site and destroyed in situ.
According to the statement, on April 21, 2022, an IRS at Lelemu creek in Warri South-West was discovered. During the operation, 19 ovens, 26 metal storage tanks and two dugout pits laden with about 250,000 litres of suspected stolen crude oil and 50,000 litres of illegally refined AGO were destroyed.
To ensure effective deactivation of IRS, NNS DELTA on 21 April 2022 conducted swamp buggy operations during which an earlier identified IRS around Egwa creek in Warri was destroyed.
During the operation, 16 ovens, 31 metal storage tanks and seven large pits all filled with about 850,000 litres of stolen crude oil were equally deactivated.
Relatedly, on 22 April 2022, around Lelemu creek in Warri South West LGA of Delta State, personnel under NNS DELTA again discovered 22 IRS ovens, 12 metallic storage tanks and 5 large pits all containing about 150,000 litres of stolen crude oil.
“At another IRS off Lelemu creek, 19 ovens, 42 storage tanks and 14 large pits containing about 300,000 litres of stolen crude oil, as well as approximately 200,000 litres of illegally refined AGO, 100,000 litres of illegally refined DPK and 100,000 litres of suspected crude oil sludge were all destroyed,” it added.
In a related development, NNS LUGARD at Kogi State in the course of OPDDB discovered an IRS on 22 April 2022, at a location off Akili-Ozizor community of Ogbaru LGA, Anambra State.
During the operation, four locally fabricated ovens, seven metal storage tanks, four large pits of which two were for storage of about 48,000 litres of stolen crude oil were all destroyed.
On the same day, NNS VICTORY in Calabar raided tanker garage along Harbour road in the city and seized a storage tank containing about 45,000 Litres of suspected illegally refined AGO. Also, a tanker laden with 33,000 Litres of suspected locally refined AGO was seized and the owner was arrested. Furthermore, about 58 drums of locally refined AGO were also seized.
Additionally, NNS SOROH at Yenagoa, on Saturday 23 April 2022 intercepted a wooden boat at Otuokpot Area along Kolo creek.
“The wooden boat was laden with 60,000Litres of illegally refined AGO together with over 100 sacks of same product. Items on the boat which included one pumping machine, one Yamaha 40HP outboard engine and one locally made boat Anchor with the products were destroyed at Ogbia waterside,” it stated.
The base also conducted a search on a Market Boat heading for St Nicolas Axis from Akassa area.
About 2,500 litres of suspected illegally refined products stored in gallons and sacks were hidden inside the boat. Accordingly, same were evacuated for destruction. Likewise, on the same day, personnel under NNS DELTA on patrol around Jones creek in Warri South West LGA raided an IRS and discovered 33 ovens, 42 metal storage tanks and seven wide pits all filled with about 1,200,000 litres of stolen crude oil, 250,000 litres of illegally refined AGO and about 100,000 litres of sludge.
Furthermore, combing of the area off Jones creek led to the discovery of another IRS with five ovens, two metal storage tanks and eight large pits with about 150,000 litres of sludge. Both IRS off Jones creek with the discovered items and products were destroyed in situ.
The statement affirmed that over 6,000,000 litres of products valued over N3 billion from oil thieves and economic saboteurs.
“The migration by operators of IRS from the South South geopolitical zone to the South East also come to the fore. “This development will in no way deter the Nigerian Navy from ensuring zero tolerance for COT, IRS, illegal bunkering and related economic crimes in the Nation’s maritime environment and adjoining territory”, it said.
Buhari Mourns Over 100 Persons Killed in Imo Illegal Refinery Explosion, Says It’s National Disaster
Meanwhile, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, Buhari, who described the unfortunate incident that occurred in Ohaji/Egbema of Imo State as a, “catastrophe and a national disaster,” called on the security agencies to intensify their clampdown on oil theft.
Many people were reportedly burnt beyond recognition by the explosion. It was learnt that the police were now looking for the owner of the unlawful refinery.
Dozens of people were thought to have been working at the refining plants when they were caught in the huge fire.
The death toll continued to rise as emergency workers went through the scene. Ifeanyi Nnaji of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) told the British media organisation, BBC Igbo, that the number killed now stood at 109.
“We learnt many bodies are in nearby bushes and forests as some illegal operators and their patrons scampered for safety,” Nnaji said.
While offering his condolences to the families of the victims, the president demanded that those responsible for the explosions must be caught and brought to justice.
In the statement, titled, “Imo ‘Refinery’ Deaths, a National Disaster,” Buhari urged community leaders and the security personnel in the area to prevent a reoccurrence of such incidents.
The statement said, “President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the nation’s armed forces, security and intelligence agencies to intensify the clampdown on illegal refineries following the reported deaths of tens of people Friday night after an illegal refinery exploded at Abaezi forest in the Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State.
“Reacting to what he described as a catastrophe and a national disaster, Buhari said responsibility for the loss of lives and property must squarely lie with the sponsors of the illegal refinery, who must all be caught and made to face justice.
“In conveying the condolences and the full depth and range of the nation’s shock and trauma to the families of the victims, the Ohaji/Egbema community and the government and people of Imo State, the president urged community leaders, the police, and the secret service to never allow the occurrence of the heart-breaking incident in any part of the country again.”
The damage to fishing and farming in oil-rich communities caused by the oil industry over the decades has led some to find other ways to make money from the oil business. Illegal refining is attractive in some oil-producing communities, as it is seen as somewhat easy to manage, despite efforts to halt the practice.
The authorities have been struggling to curb the proliferation of illegal plants where stolen crude oil is refined. The president ordered security forces to intensify efforts to shut these refineries.
It is not yet clear what caused the explosion that happened overnight into Saturday, but accidents like this have been common in the past at similar dangerous sites where safety measures are not enforced.
There have been concerns over a lack of precautions at such facilities as well as over the environmental pollution they cause. But Nigeria’s official oil refineries do not work to capacity, causing frequent fuel shortages and price increases across the country, and making the unlawful business very lucrative.
Source: This Day