Port Harcourt — Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, said the Navy, together with other military and security services have deployed heavy military wares at the sea to stamp out maritime crimes especially crude theft and piracy.
Subsequently, the navy organized a fleet evaluation joint military exercise code named Operation Farauta (hunting) which lasted between November 11 and 17 in the Gulf of Guinea.
"The exercise was in pursuance of President Goodluck Jonathan's mandate to the Nigerian Navy to do all it can to stamp out the prevalence of illegal maritime activities especially crude oil theft, illegal oil bunkering and piracy in the Niger Delta region. "A total of eight ships, six gun boats and three helicopter including elements of Nigerian Army and Maritime Patrol Aircraft of the Nigerian Air Force took part in the exercise."
The exercise enabled the navy to assess its operational capability with a view to identifying gaps and taking necessary measures "to fill such gaps for enhanced operational readiness." The aim of the exercise was to intensify the ongoing naval operations in the Niger Delta region with "emphasis on Bonny-Akassa-Excravos axis (an area notorious for crude oil theft) up to the extent of the offshore oil platforms at Bonga and Bogi." The chief further said the presence of the navy at the sea was germane to economic growth.
Some of war ships deployed for the exercise included Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) THUNDER (frigate class), NNS KYANWA, NNS NWAMBA, NNS OBULA (cat class), NNS BURUTU, NNS ZARIA (manta class) as well as NNS MAKURDI and NNS ANDONI (river town class).
Helicopters including Agusta Hel 07, Agusta Hel 08, Agusta Hel 09, two Nigerian Army patrol vessels and one Nigerian Air Force Maritime Patrol Aircraft (ATR-4). Admiral Ezeoba personally monitored the exercise aboard THUNDER, while the Chief of Training and Operations Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogbor and the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command, Yenagoa, Rear Admiral John Oluwatoyin took charge of the fleet control. Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Olufemi Ogunjimi also took part in the exercise.
Rear Admiral Ogbor (officer in charge) said all the ships were certified to be in sound condition but for the navy to conduct continuous operation at the sea, the challenges of maintenance including the supply of oil and lubricants must be addressed. He said army personnel are significant to naval operations especially when launching assault while the air force conducts aerial surveillance. He said the exercise had to a large extent enhanced the ability of navy in Visit, Board, Search and Seizure operations. Air force and army personnel participated in the exercise.
Rear Admiral Oluwatoyin (officer in tactical command) said the vessels were stationed in strategic location and performed various defence tactics. He said ideally, the navy needs more ships to keep an eye on crime at the sea. "The platforms are grossly inadequate."
The ships sailed into the Nigeria's 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zones(EEZ) from Port Harcourt as far as the Cameroon borders during the exercise while the aircraft hovered in the air space. Most of Nigeria's active oil platforms including Bonga and Bonny were situated far away from the water's edge, thus only frigate class ships are required to conduct operations there. They (ships) conducted aggressive maneuvers, arrow and V-shape tactical formations meant to counter adversaries.
At some instances they maintained wider distance apart while in others they kept small distance. With the aid of the air force aircraft that kept vigil by hovering in the skies, the ships interrogated seventeen oil vessels suspected to be carrying stolen crude. The conduit of communication was so perfect that the aircraft notified the ships of objects it suspected and vice versa.
The THUNDER intercepted an oil tanker, MT Androussa near the Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facility in Agbami, with thousands of barrels of crude. Naval personnel boarded the vessel and examined its content and papers. The quantity of crude was suspected to have been in excess of the required it was supposed to bear and was arrested and detained in Bonny. MT Androussa was registered in Lome, Togo.
Another giant oil tanker, MV Aecean Horizon (Arcadia Hellas) registered in Greece was arrested at the immediate vicinity of the Ibok loading terminal. Her particulars were not satisfactory even as the naval headquarters in Abuja was radioed thus, she was detained.
All the oil fields at the sea were visited regularly by ships, some of which fetch crude dishonestly. Other naval vessels that participated in the exercise also interrogated a number of oil ships. They included MT Liberty, MCP PA Phos, MT Felicity, Safmarine Nile, Bourbon Ruby, MT Diplomat, Walvis 6, MT Bade and MT Nordic Fighter. Others are Angel No 3, Hungin Explorer, BGP Pioneer, Aenne Rickmers, MT Oceana and UAL Nigeria.
The Commander of 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt Brigadier General Tukur Buratai said the army has deployed personnel and gun boats in the Niger Delta for patrols. The soldiers work together with the navy to prevent illegal crude refining and bunkering. The navy invites the army to launch assault on unruly criminals.
The Command Operations Officer of the Air Force Mobility Command Yenagoa, Air Commodore Joseph Adeleke said maritime patrol aircraft are required to spot distant objects at the sea. He said the exercise was timely.
One security source in Port Harcourt said "those involved in oil theft are not poor or ordinary people but are rich and connected to those in authority. It is a big business and risky. To charter one oil tanker per day costs between $25,000 and $30,000 and it takes the minimum of one week for a tanker to be fully loaded. The patrol teams are being monitored by the thieves and as soon as the teams leave the oil fields, they start siphoning the products." He said local thieves in the Niger Delta region also cause a number of damages to pipeline and fetched unquantifiable amount of oil. "They do that mostly on the grounds that the environment is being polluted and they could not fish nor cultivate crops. They are mostly in charge the local refineries."
Vice Admiral Ezeoba said the navy is always ready to deploy additional ships to police the country's oil assets but such patrols are capital intensive and unless, the government allocate more money to the navy, it is not possible.
He said the navy needs more frigatescapable of operating across the deep waters of open sea in addition to NNS THUNDER. About N600 million was spent by the navy to mobilize the eight ships and settle personnel for the exercise, he said adding that NNS Aradu which was commissioned in 1982 will be rejuvenated after government's approval and will be dispatched for maritime patrol. Also, there was a plan for the acquisition of two Off-shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), he added.
More frigates are needed to safeguard the off-shore platforms such as Bonga which produces 200,000 of crude per day.
The extent to which Nigeria's crude oil is illegally siphoned both on-shore and off-shore increases day in day out. Crude oil thieves have devised several ways of tapping crude, refine and sell the products, more often than not without being detected. Some of the thieves work in conjunction with the oil workers or those in authority. Eventually, the country's two million barrels of crude oil produced per day, has dropped woefully.
One of the major oil production firms, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), shut down its Imo River oil pipeline on October 31, this year due to damage caused by thieves and deferred 25,000 barrel per day (bpd) of oil production.
Some six crude theft points have so far been confirmed on the 12-inch trunk line, of which three have been repaired. There have been 26 spills in the Imo River area so far this year; 25 had been due to sabotage, spilling nearly 3,000 barrels into the environment, Shell said.
Shell, the largest multinational oil company operating in Nigeria, says it loses 12 million euros daily to oil thieves. In all, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its recent report that Nigeria loses about $7 billion annually to theft of crude oil in the country.