Nigerian troops have arrested 22 Ghanaians and five Nigerians whom they caught stealing from an oil pipeline in the Niger Delta, impounding two boats, one of which was carrying 25,000 metric tonnes of suspected crude oil, the army said on Monday.
Nigeria is the world's eighth biggest exporter of crude oil but thieves take a sizeable proportion of its output by drilling into pipelines in operations called 'bunkering'.
Oil majors say bunkering is a major headache in the oil rich Niger Delta, a labyrinth of creeks and swamps that has for decades been plagued by militant activity and poor environmental management, leading to devastating oil spills.
"Our troops arrested the suspects on Sunday while they were doing illegal bunkering around Awoba flow station in ... Rivers state. They vandalised the pipeline and stole the crude," said Brigadier General Tukur Buratai, the state's top commander.
"We arrested 22 Ghanaians, five Nigerians and two of their vessels. One of the vessels was loaded with 25,000 metric tonnes of substance suspected to be crude oil."
An amnesty in 2009 sharply reduced militancy in the onshore swamps and waterways of the Niger Delta but criminal gangs tapping oil pipelines is still a major problem.
Royal Dutch Shell estimates that bunkering siphons 150,000 barrels of oil per day from Nigeria's production, and has become a major deterrent to exploring for new fields.
The company said on Friday it had declared force majeure on Nigerian Bonny Light crude oil liftings due to oil theft and that 60,000 bpd of oil had been shut down.
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