The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria on Wednesday threatened showdown with the Federal Government over the massive oil thefts in the Niger Delta.
The President, PENGASSAN, Festus Osifo, in an interview with journalists in Abuja, blamed soldiers and other security agents protecting pipelines in the country for the continued oil theft.
He said the association would halt oil production if the government failed to stop the theft.
He also disclosed that the association would hold rallies simultaneously on Thursday (today) in Abuja, Warri, Kaduna and Lagos.
According to him, the rallies would let the government know that PENGASSAN members were tired of producing oil that would be stolen eventually by thieves despite the protection of pipelines by security agencies.
The Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited, Mele Kyari, had last week Tuesday said the spate of vandalism had prompted the NNPC to shut down its entire network of pipelines conveying petroleum products nationwide.
“When we say we are losing several 700,000 barrels of crude oil daily, we mean it. This is opportunity loss. There is no company that will produce oil and then you lose 80 percent of that and continue to produce the oil.
“So we deliberately shut down the pipelines whenever we see these infractions getting to a limit that we cannot manage. So that means as we speak today, we know for sure, there’s at least 700,000 barrels that we could have produced that we can’t because we cannot guarantee the safety of the pipeline,” Kyari explained.
Lamenting the effect of the oil theft, Osifo called for the imprisonment of security officers assigned to protect pipelines from where humongous volumes of crude oil were being stolen daily, stressing that many oil companies were shutting down operations due to this development.
The President, PENGASSAN, Festus Osifo, told journalists in Abuja that the international oil companies such as Agip, Total, Shell and Addax, had stopped oil production in some wells due to the theft, as the jobs of workers in these firms were currently threatened.
He said, “If after this rally there is no traceable progress, as an association, we may be forced to withdraw our workforce from the operating companies, because we cannot continuously send crude oil into the pipelines and at the end of the day the pipelines are vandalised by people who don’t know how the oil was produced.
“Some of these pipeline vandals, when you stop production into a line, they call our members and threaten them, asking our members why they stopped production into the line and that they should open the line.
“So, the lives of our members are even at risk. For someone to have your phone number and call you, that means the person knows you. Therefore, we can no longer condone this, government must sit up.”
Osifo said the vandals had been deploying sophisticated technology, as it was not just members of host communities that were perpetuating the crime.
“It is a cartel that does this, because to be able to compromise a pipeline, the technology you need is so superb and not something that can be done easily,” he stated.
He added, “So, today it has become necessary for us as an association to cry out and shout because if necessary steps are not taken we will be forced to embark on a nationwide solidarity by withdrawing our members from production.
“Let us join and assist the government, since they are not responding to what they ought to do, they are not responsive in fighting this criminality, being that they don’t have the political will to fight this criminality, we will withdraw our members and let the country run aground.
“We cannot continue to produce and some people will siphon it, sell and become millionaires in dollars on a daily basis. We can no longer support this.”
The association called for the detention of security personnel assigned to protect the pipelines from where crude oil was being stolen in large volumes daily.
Osifo said, “Government must wake up. You cannot send naval officers, civil defence operatives, as well as men and women of the Nigerian Army to the creeks of the Niger Delta and you don’t develop a mechanism to hold them accountable.
“Accountability is key because when you send people to man certain areas and the pipelines there are compromised, how many of these people are jailed? This is because there is no accountability.
“If there is no consequence management and you keep reshuffling them every six months, what you are only doing is creating cycles of millionaires from oil theft every six months. And that is what is currently happening.”
He added, “So, we call on the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and Chief of Army Staff that they must know the soldiers that they send to the creeks as well as other officers they send there and they must hold them accountable.
“Anyone who defaults should be put in prison. When you send 1,000 of them at once to prison and you send another 1,000 there to secure the pipelines, the new set will know that it is no longer business as usual.
“But when you send some of them there and they are compromised and you now transfer them to other locations in Nigeria, and then send another new group there, this new group will replicate or even do worse than what the previous group did.”
The association’s president said the challenge was real, as there was total compromise and total connivance, stressing that “we are saying that the rhetorics and too much talk must stop. We must all close ranks to stop this.”
Osifo further noted that PENGASSAN had repeatedly proffered measures to the government on how to tackle the menace, such as the deployment of latest pipeline technology, among others, but expressed regret that the ideas had not been implemented.
Meanwhile, Federal Government has initiated moves to prosecute those behind the Motor Tanker Heroic Idun vessel that disregarded the detention orders of the Nigerian Navy and escaped from the Nigerian waterways to Equatorial Guinea in August.
The Director, Naval Information, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, on Wednesday affirmed that the vessel, which was later arrested in Equatorial Guinea with the help of the intelligence provided by the Navy, would be repatriated to Nigeria and that the captain, owners and others involved in the infraction would be prosecuted. He noted that the navy possessed evidence to press charges.
Speaking when he led his team on a courtesy visit to Punch Place, the headquarters of Punch Nigeria Limited in Magboro, Ogun State, the naval spokesperson stressed that the navy would not condone disregard for its orders within its jurisdiction, noting that its Maritime Domain Awareness asset was optimised to detect any illegal activity on Nigerian waters.
In early August and amid growing dissatisfaction by the citizenry over crude oil theft in the country and its attendant impact on the economy, there was public outrage over reports that a three million-barrel capacity supertanker with stolen crude oil escaped to neighbouring countries.
But the Navy in a statement by Ayo-Vaughan clarified that the 336-metre long vessel, with International Maritime Oganisation number 9858058, was sighted by its personnel on August 7 around the Akpo Oil Field, Deep Offshore Bonny.
It noted that the very large crude carrier with a carrying capacity of 299,995 MT, reportedly owned by Hunter Tankers AS, domiciled in Scandinavia, Norway but operated by Trafigura Maritime Logistics situated in the Netherlands, arrived at the Total Safe Anchorage operated by Akpo Oil Field for loading.
The statement noted that the vessel was interrogated by the navy and was observed to be without the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited’s due clearance for loading operations but that the vessel proceeded with loading at the Akpo Single Buoy Mooring on August 8, 2022.
It noted further that the vessel was stopped but that the captain of the vessel said he was instructed by the ship’s agents not to obey any directive from the Nigerian Navy, and that the VLCC subsequently resisted arrest when NNS Gongola ordered it to stop. Rather, it was said to have escaped towards the Nigeria – Sao Tome Joint Development Area and raised false alarm to the International Maritime Bureau that she was under attacks by pirates.
“This information was subsequently broadcast by IMB to the relevant international authorities and stakeholders,” it added.
It was further disclosed that with the aid of the intelligence provided by the Nigerian Navy through its Maritime Domain Awareness asset and the collaboration among the Gulf of Guinea nations, the vessel was eventually arrested by Equatorial Guinean Navy on August 12.
Meanwhile, the naval spokesperson said the Federal Government was leaving no stone unturned to prosecute those behind the infraction. He said even though the NNPC’s clearance for the vessel to lift later came, the disregard for the lawful orders of the navy would not go unpunished.
He said, “As we speak, we have Maritime Domain Awareness asset, which is like CCTV cameras, which picked up the presence of that vessel in our waters. We also have 24/7 surveillance of our offshore waters even beyond the limit of the exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (about 400km southwards in the South Atlantic) even overlapping Melabor and Sao Tome and Principe.
“Any vessel that comes into our waters, we pick it and it was our system that raised the alarm that MT Heroic Idum was not on the list of approved tankers for loading by the NNPC. Some people said the vessel was there two months before she was discovered but the navy has made its position clear.
“The last is yet to be heard about this Heroic Idum, but when she comes back to the country and the vessel, its chatterers and owners face charges, Nigerians will hear what actually happened. The navy is planning to press charges against the captain for not obeying lawful orders, and I think it will be all encompassing because the captain works for somebody.
“Also, we have as evidence the recordings of the audio conversation (between the captain and the navy); it was recorded. The instruction (from the naval officers in charge) was ‘proceed to a certain place, she said no, my agents have told me something else.’”
The spokesperson noted that, in line with laid-down orders, the navy could have used some force against the vessel or even make it go down for disobeying its lawful orders but that it exercised some restraints to avoid certain issues.
He added, “In naval parlance, when you give an instruction to a merchant vessel and she does not comply, you fire a shot across her bow to tell her that you are ready and willing to demonstrate your will to get her to do what you want. It’s dangerous, but with precision, you fire a main shot across the bow of the vessel, and she would know you are not joking. But it was late in the night, so there wasn’t need to do that so as not to cause unnecessary issues.”
Repatriation moves begin
Speaking further, Ayo-Vaughan, said moves had begun to bring back the vessel to Nigeria.
He added, “As we speak, bilateral and diplomatic engagements are going on to bring that vessel back to Nigeria from Equatorial Guinea where she was arrested, and her arrest was with the efforts of MDAA, which led an Equatorial Guinean ship to arrest the vessel.
“So, the repatriation of the ship to our waters has to be done. The legal department would have more information on this, but I know there will be the involvement of the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation because of the nature of the crime. I haven’t been briefed but I know that is the intention of what we want to do.”
He debunked allegations that the ship was cleared by the NNPC to lift crude but that some naval personnel who were trying to extort the vessel to the tune of $50,000 to $100,000 stopped it from lifting crude.
He said could not speak for the NNPC as it could be due to communication gaps, but that this would not be the first time the navy would pick up vessels that were not on its approved list.
Ayo-Vaughan added, “At some point, the approval came for Heroic Idum, but at that time, the vessel had committed infractions because the instruction from our vessel was ‘follow me and stay in Bonny Anchorage till you are cleared to load, I’ve not seen your name on the list I have.’ But she refused. She said her agents told her not to take instructions from the navy.
“But you cannot come to our waters and tell us how you want to behave. If it is a Nigerian flagged merchant vessel or tanker in American waters or even in our sister countries’ waters, you have to obey the regulations of the authorities of that state. So, for not complying with that instruction, she committed an infraction.”
He noted that naval personnel had been trained in the United Arab Emirates for “physicalisation”, in which case he said naval personnel would be present at the terminal where the vessels load crude oil and the metre would be seen by all.
He added, “It means you cannot get a deal to lift 200,000 barrels of crude and you bring a vessel that can lift one million barrels, else, something would be fishy. I have been in operations before and I know that for vessels that are nominated for finished products lifting, they come to meet the navy for approval, which is purely administrative.
“At times, a vessel may have a schedule to lift products from Brass and proceed to Calabar. At times you find some vessels would get the product from illegally refined refineries and would want to deliver it somewhere else. There are lots of sharp practices and that administrative check helps, but even with that some people still try to beat it.”
Ayo-Vaughan said in the Niger Delta, there was an agreement that any truck caught with illegally-refined product and is tested in the laboratory to be genuine, would be burnt.
He added, “It’s a loss for the owner but the announcement has been made that if you are hiring, chattering or leasing your truck, be sure of what they are going to use it for because the supply chain of the illegal refiners is very strong.”
He also expressed the preparedness of the navy to combat oil theft headlong.
But Inchcape Shipping Services Nigeria Limited, an agent of the controversial oil super tanker said that Inchcape got the clearance that it needed for the oil vessel based on its (Inchcape’s) operations.
But when contacted and asked whether its client (the vessel) got clearance to load crude from the Akpo oil field, an official with Inchcape, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, replied, “There are many forms of clearance, so it all depends on the clearance you need.
“It all depends on the particular clearance you are asking for, because a vessel requires a lot of clearances to be able to call for the vessel’s off-take.
“So a vessel that is calling its terminal or offshore for loading, first of all has to secure DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources – now Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission) and NNPC’s clearance, which is being handled by the suppliers.”
Probed further to tell whether the vessel got clearance from the NNPC or the NUPRC, the official replied, “Now that you are this specific, I think it is the supplier that will be in position to answer that question. This is because it is not being handled by Inchcape.”
The source insisted that Inchcape was only an agent to the vessel and could not determine whether the vessel got clearance from the NNPC to lift crude from the Akpo field.
“What the agent does is only to apply to customs, gets customs clearance and ports clearance. So the other ones are being handled by other agencies,” he said.
Asked whether Inchcape got all the clearance that it required based on the agent’s operations, the official replied, “That’s correct.”
When asked who was the supplier that being referred to, the source stated that it was the NNPC.
But the NNPC refused to comment on the matter when contacted, as it argued that the Nigerian Navy was handling the issue.
“It is a matter currently being handled by the Navy and your enquiries should be directed to them,” a senior official at the oil firm, who also pleaded not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the matter, stated.
Reacting to this, a member of the Maritime Lawyers Association, Emmanuel Nwagbara, said that he doesn’t see such charges being sustainable.
He also said that according to Petroleum Act, for the act to be unlawful, it must take place in Nigeria.
“I have seen some charges at the Federal High Court involving vessels and sailors. And these charges show that the offences were committed outside Nigerian territorial waters. The thing about these charges that I talked about is that they are based on the Petroleum Act. This has been the trend. And I would say as a lawyer that I don’t see some of those charges being sustainable in law. Because the Petroleum Act itself says that the act, for it to be unlawful, must take place in Nigeria. I have seen charges that deal with illegal dealing with petroleum products and I know that the licensing requirements to deal in petroleum products is a stipulation of a law that says that such licenses must be issued for the dealing in petroleum products in Nigeria. So, where the person is charged with dealing with petroleum product outside of Nigeria, does it require the license of the regulatory agency in Nigeria to do that? This is the question that we have to resolve in such a criminal charge. So, it depends on how the charge is framed for it to be sustainable or not.”
On if the move will serve as a deterrent, Nwagbara said, “So long as it is not undue harassment. Once it is outside the realm of bullying, it will go a long way in checkmating illegalities on our waters.”
He advised the government to ensure that the charges are brought in proper circumstances.
“The advice I have for the government is to make sure that charges are brought in proper circumstances. Because most times many of the charges are brought and you don’t have the materials and the necessary witnesses to prosecute them and at the end of the day, what you have is what can be termed waste of resources, time and in some cases, what appear to be victimisation. I would advise that the government should put themselves together and make sure that the charges that are brought are sustainable and within the law so that the aim of initiating and prosecuting such offences which is to serve as a deterrent to people who want to commit crime on waters will be met,” he said.