The arrest of a supertanker with capacity for three million barrels of oil, about three times the one million barrels per day (bpd) currently being produced by Nigeria, clearly validates the widely held suspicion that international collaborators are involved in siphoning the country’s oil wealth in connivance with syndicate of thieves and high level government officials.
The capacity of the tanker points to the scale and scope of the theft of the precious resource commodity going on thereby denying the country of much needed foreign exchange.
The Nigerian Navy late Wednesday confirmed that the ship in question had been seized in Equatorial Guinea after the 300,000 metric tonnes facility escaped from its forces.
The Nigerian economy has recently been badly hit by the inability of the government to generate dollar revenue from its main source, which is the export of crude oil.
While Nigeria’s production in the last few months hovered between 1 million bpd and 1.1 million bpd, its Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota this August is 1.826 million, a deficit of roughly 700,000 to 800,000 bpd.
At the unveiling of new Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs) with its partners last week, Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPCL), Mele Kyari, hinted that while local oil theft had been contained to some extent, there were some international cartels involved in the stealing of Nigeria’s oil.
Kyari said Nigeria was setting in motion a firm mechanism to mark its crude export so that buyers could easily identify stolen crude. He added that henceforth any foreign collaborators would be dealt with in accordance with international laws.
A source told THISDAY that the supertanker, MT HEROIC IDUN, a Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), was observed by the Nigerian Navy’s Falcon Eye Maritime Domain Awareness system to have arrived Akpo offshore oil field operated by Total SA at midnight of August 8 for loading operations without valid documents, especially the NNPCL clearance.
According to the naval source, the Martial Island flagged vessel with IMO No: 9858058 is a 336-metre supertanker capable of loading nearly three million barrels of Nigeria’s crude.
Her presence in Nigerian waters and proximity to Akpo Oil Field, the source said, necessitated further inquiry from NNPCL, which confirmed the vessel’s presence and intended loading operation to be illegal due to lack of relevant clearance by the agency.
To further confirm her intention, NNPC was said to have contacted Total SA demanding further information regarding the intended loading operation of the supertanker at the Akpo offshore oil field.
Based on the information gathered, the Nigerian Navy sent NNS GONGOLA to intercept and question MT HERIOC IDUN within the vicinity of Akpo oil field for her suspicious presence in Nigerian waters, THISDAY was told.
The source said, “On arrival of NNS GONGOLA at the location and communication with MT HEROIC IDUN, inquiry revealed that the vessel had 26 crew members on-board, comprising 16 Indians, eight Sri Lankans, one Philippine, and one Pole.
“The captain of MT HEROIC IDUN also revealed that the vessel arrived the oil field to load crude destined for Ziba in Equatorial Guinea. Further questioning revealed that MT HEROIC IDUN had no appropriate documentation for the intended loading operation at Akpo Oil Field, as earlier confirmed by NNPC.
“All efforts to get clarification and additional information regarding the loading operation from the shipping agent of Inchcape shipping and owners of Idun maritime Limited proved abortive.”
Having failed the initial test, the source noted that the ship was directed to proceed to Bonny Fairway for further investigation.
However, it was gathered that the captain of MT HEROIC IDUN deliberately refused to comply with the directive, despite several warnings. The captain was said to have increased speed and altered course towards Nigeria-Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Zone boundaries, in an apparent move to evade arrest.
Preliminary investigation, the source said, showed that the captain claimed that he was directed by the shipping agent not to comply with the order given by the Nigerian Navy Ship.
In spite of MT HEROIC IDUN’s recognition and communications with NNS GONGOLA, the captain, while evading arrest, raised a false alarm it was under attack by sea pirates.
The source added, “This misleading action by the MT HEROIC IDUN and her shipping agent give strong indication that the vessel was, indeed, in Nigeria to load crude oil illegally and, hence, the desperate defiance to evade arrest.
“To further buttress this, the vessel had earlier responded to all questions during the questioning by the Nigerian Navy Ship, thereby affirming its recognition of NNS GONGOLA and dismissing their fabricated claim of coming under attack by sea pirates.”
According to the source, the Equatorial Guinea Navy has now arrested the ship with the help of intelligence provided by the Nigerian Navy. It said there was need for the vessel to be appropriately sanctioned for entering into the Nigerian waters without due clearance and for resisting instructions and arrest by the Nigerian Navy Ship.
“It is believed that the vessel would be handed over to Nigeria for further investigation,” it added.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Navy confirmed the arrest of the vessel and narrated how it evaded arrest and how the captain tagged Nigerian forces as sea pirates.
It noted that that findings showed that the vessel was owned by Hunter Tankers AS, domiciled in Scandinavia, Norway, but operated by Trafigura Maritime Logistics situated in the Netherlands.
It confirmed that the vessel had arrived the Total Safe Anchorage (SA) operated by Akpo Oil Field for loading operations but was interrogated by the Nigerian Navy and later observed to be without NNPC due clearance for the loading operations.
The navy source stated, “Notwithstanding, MT HEROIC IDUN proceeded for the loading operation at the Akpo Single Buoy Mooring (SBM) on 8 August 2022.
“Having not produced her NNPC clearance papers for the loading operation, MT HEROIC IDUN was stopped from proceeding further by Nigerian Navy Ship GONGOLA. The Captain of MT HEROIC IDUN then revealed that he was instructed by his ship’s agent, Messrs Inchape Shipping (owners of IDUN Maritime Limited), not to obey any directive from the Nigerian Navy.
“The VLCC subsequently resisted arrest when ordered to stop by NNS GONGOLA and the supertanker escaped towards the Nigeria – Sao Tome Joint Development Zone Area.
“In a bid to be mischievous and justify her escape, MT HEROIC IDUN reported her encounter with NNS GONGOLA as a sea robbery/pirate attack on various international maritime security watch platforms.”
However, it added that the false alarm of sea robbery attack was refuted by the Head of the Regional Centre for Maritime Security for West Africa, Abidjan, Rear Admiral Istifanus Albarra, who mentioned that on August 9, 2022, the Regional Centre (CRESMAO) received a report from the Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) of an attempted boarding of a tanker between 10 to 15 Nautical Miles (Nm) of Akpo oil field in Nigeria.
A statement by the spokesperson of the Nigerian Navy, Commodore Olukayode Ayo-Vaughan, explained that investigation through radio communication with the vessel revealed that the tanker did not have the appropriate documentation for the intended purpose.
It also quoted the head of CRESMAO as confirming that the captain of the tanker refused to cooperate and rather altered course towards Sao Tome and Principe and later deliberately raised false alarm to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The navy welcomed with much satisfaction the news of the arrest of MT HEROIC IDUN by the Equatorial Guinean Navy (EGN) on August 12, 2022, barely four days after the supertanker assumed she had evaded arrest.
“It is also a strong warning to criminals, their sponsors and connivers that the Nigerian Navy will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the safety and security of Nigeria’s Maritime Environment (NME) as well as the observance of due process and extant regulations by all maritime stakeholders within the NME,” the Nigerian Navy stated.