The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Vice Marshall Oluseyi Petirin yesterday revealed that the nation was losing about three million barrels of crude oil to thieves monthly.
He further stated that the figure used to be as high as 90 million barrels monthly prior to the intervention of the Defence Headquarters several months ago.
The CDS made these disclosures yesterday when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee investigating upsurge in illegal oil bunkering in the country.
In his own remarks before the Committee, the Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ola Ibrahim had said a seized ship which was earlier alleged to be carrying 8.5 million barrels of stolen crude oil was eventually discovered not to have crude oil on board.
It would be recalled that Chairman of the Committee, Muraina Ajibola had during the public hearing said the ship contained 8.5m barrels of crude oil and the Committee subsequently constituted a sub-committee which was directed to establish the veracity of the information within 72 hours.
In addition, the Navy was directed to hand over the said ship to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for safekeeping.
Contrary to the claims of the Committee, the CNS said there was no crude oil on board the ship at the time of its arrest. He also disputed the claims of the Committee on the origin of the ship saying it was Belgian and not French.
Ibrahim however identified factors responsible for oil bunkering to thrive to include complicity of insiders that worked in oil companies in the past; lack of information sharing among security agencies as well as a ready-made market for crude oil.
In his submision, the Chief of Defence Staff Air Vice-Marshall Oluseyi Petinrin who led the CNS to the public hearing disclosed that the Defence Headquarters was taking the initiative of arresting the situation.
He revealed that as part of the initiatives, all boats and barges plying Nigerian coastal waters must henceforth be registered with the Defence Headquarters (DHQ). In addition, any boat or barge conveying crude oil must also be registered with an oil producing company.
Said he: "Having discovered the magnitude of threat illegal bunkering is posing to our economy, coupled with the fact that the agency of government that is supposed to do certain things has refused to carry out their responsibilities, we decided to take up the challenge towards curbing the menace of illegal bunkering."
He continued: "One of the initiatives we are putting in place is that henceforth, all boats and barges carrying crude oil must be registered with an oil company. This is to discourage those that have no business transporting crude to be involved.
"Furthermore, we felt that another effective way of curbing the illicit trade is to have all boats and barges operating on our waters registered with the Joint task Force (JTF).
"With the registration, we would be able to have the identity of the owners in the event of any occurrence. There were instances where my men would apprehend some of these boats but the next thing is that they will just jump into the water and swim away abandoning the boat.
"In that type of situation, we are only left with the boat and nobody to arrest. It is even more appalling when the smallest boat costs about N20m. So, all power boats and barges must be registered.
"We are not concerned about the registration money, we are only interested in having the identities of the owners of the boats and barges.
"We believe that with this, we should be able to bring down the incidents of illegal bunkering in the country. We are getting involved because those saddled with the responsibility have refused to yield to several requests from us to that effect.
Petinrin also blamed relevant regulatory agencies partly for encouraging the illegal trade by not having proper official documentation of the boats and barges operating in the Niger Delta region.
He said prior to the intervention of the Defence Headquarters, oil companies were recording loss of 90 million barrels of crude oil monthly.
While he identified lack of regulation as a major contributory factor to the upsurge in illegal bunkering, the CDS disclosed that since the intervention in January 2011 to date, loss suffered by the oil companies has reduced to an average of about 3 million barrels per month.
The Defence Chief however apologized for his inability to appear before the Committee earlier than yesterday, saying it was due to official protocol and documentation.