Monday, March 4, 2024

Nigeria Tracks Down Bunker Vessel and Holds it on Oil Theft Charges

The Nigerian Navy reports it tracked and subsequently arrested a Panama-registered bunker vessel which it is accusing of oil theft. They tracked the vessel offshore before apprehending it with 13 crewmembers aboard and brought it back to Lagos over the weekend as part of a wider operation to crackdown on oil thieves.

The vessel the Sweet Miri (1,800 dwt) is reported to be owned by a Ghanaian according to the Nigerians but according to databases is managed out of the UAE. The vessel is 34 years old and operates in the Gulf of Guinea region.

Flag Officer Commanding the Western Naval Command, rear Admiral MB Hassan, told reporters on Saturday that the navy had been observing the bunker vessel and its activity for some time. He said the vessel had turned off its AIS signal on February 25 which raised suspicions. The Navy dispatched a gunboat to investigate and they had suspicion the vessel was smuggling oil.

The Navy dispatched a second vessel in the search for the Sweet Miri before they finally located the vessel approximately 174 nautical miles from Nigeria. It was traveling to Benin when it was apprehended. The command reported a search turned up nearly two million liters of oil and the vessel was ordered to return to Nigeria.

The vessel and its crew of 13 have now been placed under arrest while the commander said other departments of the government were also free to search the ship. The crew consists of one Ghanaian and 12 Nigerians.

The seizure was part of a wider crackdown across the region on alleged oil thefts. Over the past few months, there have been several reports of smaller vessels being held on allegations of oil theft.

The Nigerians in August 2022 chased a large tanker, the Heroic Idum, which they also charged with loading stolen crude. The vessel took refuge in Equatorial Guinea but was later handed back to Nigeria which used antipiracy laws to charge the crew. A settlement was finally reached in April 2023 when the vessel’s operators agreed to a public apology and a fine but it took till June 2023 for the crew to be released.

The Maritime Executive

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