As one of the major oil and gas producing states in the Niger Delta region, Rivers has had its fair share of the activities of illegal oil bunkerers and pipeline vandals in recent time.
From the Imo River oil field to the Bodo-Bonny gas pipeline, small, medium, and large scale illegal oil bunkering as well as vandalism of oil and gas pipelines have really impacted negatively on the environment.
Recently, the Vice President, Health, Safety, and Communication, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Tony Attah, raised alarm over the increasing rate of oil theft in the Niger Delta region and solicited the help of the federal government in the fight against the menace.
Attah said; "this menace is one that has been around for a very long time and working with you, we have shown you a few things in the past. I remember, I don't know if you were with us at Imo River over-fly, which is a similar terrible situation. Also, around the Bodo-Bomu axis, we have a very similar situation going on.
"There you have lots of illegal refining activities which are damaging the environment. This particular one is worthy of mention because of the scale. A lot of time, when we try to tell the world about the environmental devastation the country is experiencing is too much to bear. I don't know how much of the information that use to go down.
"So, this is a classical one for you to help us. I mean, you have seen that vessel, you have seen the size. If not that it caught fire, we would not have been able to show you how bad the situation is. But, this is one of many. This is beyond poor hungry people. These are cartels involved in the whole criminality of stealing crude oil and it is a menace that must be stopped. This one, we believe requires strong concerted effort by all parties. The industry alone cannot do it.
"We need a lot of support from government, from the communities themselves, from security agencies and as a matter of fact, from the international community. You can tell the risks, it is enormous and we hear that some of these situations are protected by very strong arms which they bring to the risk of the region itself, getting back to the uncivil situation and we don't want that."
Few days after the Shell Vice President raised the alarm, the multi-national shut down operations in the Imo River trunkline in its Eastern operations after it found several crude theft points on the facility. Production of some 25,000 barrels of oil per day was deferred.
Determined to fight the menace to a standstill, security agencies in the state, including the Nigerian police, the army, the navy, the air force, the state security service (SSS), and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) recently swung into action and it really paid off.
On the night of Monday, November 19, 2012, men of the Joint Task-Force (JTF), code-named 'Operation Pulo Shield' arrested two staff of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) for involvement in the economic sabotage activity on a Shell pipeline in Kporgho community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State. The two suspects, Mr. Bori Friday and Mr. Young Apahia are surveillance staff of Shell, who were employed to protect the oil pipelines of the multi-national against vandalism.
According to Major Michael Etete, spokesman of Sector Two of JTF, the special security agents on patrol discovered at about 9.00 pm a broken pipeline and illegal connection on an SPDC pipeline in Kporgho community with both men found on the scene of the pipeline vandalism.
The JTF, had earlier on the day, raided illegal oil refining sites around Awoba, Bille, KM 45 and Elemakire, all in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State, where it destroyed three wooden boats loaded with 55 empty drums , five speed boats and one illegal refinery with five surface tanks, one underground storage tank and a wooden boat all loaded with illegally refined AGO.
On that same Monday, November 19, a combined team of security agents stormed Ke and Pero-Kparakama communities in the same Degema Local Government Area of the State where they discovered and destroyed a total of 51 illegal refineries and four Cotonou boats.
During the operation that lasted over nine hours, the security agents also arrested six persons including two ladies, over their alleged involvement in illegal oil bunkering in the state.
The names of the ladies were given as; Miss Jane Duke Ijeoma and Lillian Obi, while their male counterparts included Sandwell Jumbo, Chinonso Ochuma, Godspower Robinson and Jonathan Robinson.
According to Commodore Oyetunji Fadeyi, the Commanding Officer, Nigerian Navy Shipyard (NNS Pathfinder), Rumuolumeni, Port Harcourt, the joint operation in the two communities were carried out based on useful information extracted from sea pirates earlier arrested.
Although the fight against oil theft is yielding positive results in the state, however, agents are blaming both the multi-national oil firms and the judiciary for the rise in the activities of oil thieves in the state and Niger Delta region in general.
For Fadeyi, he attributed the rise in sea piracy and illegal oil bunkering to loopholes in the judicial system and called for the establishment of a special court for speedy prosecution of those involved in the illegal oil activities.
To Etete, who is also the Army Public Relations Officer (APRO), 2 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, the oil companies were frustrating the efforts of the JTF at ridding the country of oil theft and illegal bunkering operations.
He stated that although the outfit was ever determined to continue the fight against illegal bunkering and oil theft in the region, multinationals, especially Shell were not making the assignment of the special security outfit easy.
Etete said; "Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) inability to repair or even clamp over 70 illegal loading points already discovered over the last one year in the sector is adversely affecting the fight against oil theft due to continuos use by oil thieves.
"This is highly frustrating to the JTF operations. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) should cause SPDC management to repair or clamp all identified illegal loading points."