Nigeria detains two vessels in major maritime security operation

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The Nigerian military has detained two vessels and interrogated 15 others in a week-long combined exercise aimed at combating oil theft and piracy in the Niger Delta region.

Eight ships, six boats, three helicopters and several other aircraft from the Nigerian military participated in the exercise, codenamed Farauta (hunting), which took place from 11 to 17 November near the Bonny and Bonga oil platforms in Rivers and Delta states. More than 400 personnel were involved in the operation surrounding these important installations – the Bonga oil platforms produce more than 200 000 barrels of crude every day.

Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, Chief of Naval Staff, told journalists after the exercise that its aim was to deter oil thieves and pirates and to keep on the Navy on form. “The exercise would enable the Nigerian navy to assess its operational capability with a view to identifying gaps and taking necessary measures to fill such gaps for enhanced operational readiness.”

He added that it was the Nigerian Navy’s mandate to “stamp out the prevalence of illegal maritime activities, particularly crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and piracy in the Niger Delta.”

He said that of the 17 vessels suspected to be carrying stolen oil, two were arrested and detained. “One of the vessels we arrested is suspected of carrying excess oil over the approved quantity she is to carry while the other has incomplete papers as far as the naval headquarters is concerned. Both will be investigated,” Ezeoba said. “Crude oil thieves and pirates have already seen the signals and they don’t have a choice than to leave our waters,” Ezeoba added.

Some of the vessels being invstigated are MT Garroch, MT Energy, MV Gulf Sisan Laden while MT Androussa and MT Aegean Horizon were detained for further investigation, reports Nigeria’s Sunday Trust.

Ezeoba called on further support from the government when pursuing maritime security. “We have the requisite technology in this fleet evaluation [exercise],” he said.” An aircraft was at sea with us for seven days. In terms of surveillance driven by technology, we have the capability. What we lack is the real time transfer of data to the ship out at sea, so we have to wait at some point to use voice communication. Effort is ongoing to domesticate in our capability for support equipment so that whatever data will get to us real time.”

Oil theft, piracy, kidnapping and robbery at sea are major problems in the Niger Delta wetlands region in southern Nigeria, where the majority of its oil is produced. The thousands of kilometres of winding waterways and creeks are difficult to police, although there is also evidence that security officials have been complicit in theft.

Nigerian authorities said last month major oil theft incidents and the country’s worst floods in 50 years caused oil output to drop by a fifth, but days later said things were back to normal.