…Bunkerers relocate to high sea
…Military storms creeks, searches communities connected to pipelines
…We’re losing 700,000 bpd – Sylva
Oil bunkerers and illegal operators of refineries in the Niger Delta region are scampering for safety following sustained onslaughts on the creeks and other remote locations which have served as their operational bases for many years now, PATRICK ANDREW writes.
Following military onslaughts on the creeks and other remote locations oil bunkerers have shifted their operational base to the high sea where they currently engaged in vandalism of underwater pipelines and loading points which has almost bred Nigeria to death.
The attacks on the operation of illegal crude oil activities are directed at communities and further narrowed down to villages and homes where illegal activities are suspected to be going on. Blueprint Weekend learnt many communities and villages are in panic mood because of the aggressive onslaught and the merciless approaches of the military personnel in the exercise.
Our investigation showed that security operatives especially personnel of Operation Delta Safe in the conduct of operation Octopus Grip outfits constituted by the Nigerian Army to assail and breach all illegal crude oil activities have quietly conducted aggressive searches on suspected communities, villages and sometimes homes of individuals suspected to have been engaging in the immoral acts.
According to dependable sources in Agbonchia, Akpaje, Nchia, Alesa, Ebubu and other surrounding areas which constitute Eleme community, where Nigeria’s maiden refinery was built, residents are in panic mood as the military were said to be quietly conducting discreet searches of homes suspected to have secretly connected pipelines to their homes to siphon crude oil products.
A security operative attached to the depot in Eleme told Blueprint Weekend that some youths in the area had gone into hiding for fear of highhandedness from the military. Though the pipelines run through some villages some criminally minded members of these communities have found ways of drilling pipes into the supply line so that each time products are loaded for distribution to different depots to Akwa Ibom, Imo or Abia. They also load these products, she said.
It is the same in Onne, where villages near and around the environs have equally been in anxious care for fear of likely reprisal should the military eventually found that pipelines vandalism and other related illegal connections to products siphon may have taken place.
Already, residents of a certain community in Rivers state have distanced themselves from the home of one of their illustrious sons in whose compound illegal connection to pipelines was alleged to have taken place.
Their son, a politically exposed and former ranking member of the state and federal government as an elected lawmaker and an appointee at the central level, has opted to limit his appearance in public.
Similarly, another frontline politician in Bayelsa is in the same situation. According to sources, the elite politician’s village and his immediate environment is notorious for illegal connections to pipelines to siphon products.
“Youths in the villages are up in arms preparatory for any eventuality from the military or any of the security outfits. They have accordingly on their own shutdown a number of illegal refineries in the creeks and have turned to sea piracy,” Dafe, a practising journalist based in Port Harcourt said.
Also, Igwe, a resident of one of the villages said, “the military has always looked for opportunities to assault us and could use the excuse of stamping out pipeline vandals to hurt us. I must confess though these bunkering and illegal refinery operations in the creeks have subsided because of the aggression the Navy and soldiers have applied against its operators. It is no longer a safe business for now. What thrives now is sea piracy, but it is very risky.”
It is the same in Azuzama, Southern Ijaw, in Bayelsa state, Ishiagu, Abaezi, Ohaji-Egbema LGA, in Imo state where some 100 persons were burnt to death when fire gutted an illegal crude oil refining facility.
Similarly, some villages in Oruk-Anam LGA, like Ikot Akpan Udo, Ikot Asute, and others along that axis in Akwa Ibom, some other coastal communities in Port Harcourt, Rivers state are said to be heavily affected.
Confirming the development, the Director Defence Media Operations, Major General Musa Danmadami, said the troops operational activities in the last couple of weeks have been largely successful.
“The maritime and land component of Operation Delta Safe in the conduct of operation Octopus Grip conducted operational activities at creeks, waterways, communities, villages, towns and cities within Delta, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers States between October 20 and November 2, 2022.
“During the operations, troops discovered and destroyed 57 illegal refining sites, 35 wooden boats, 304 storage tanks, 172 cooking ovens, 12 dugout pits, 5 drums, 2 reservoirs, 2 illegal bunkering camp and 6 illegal bunkering boats,” he said stressing that drastic measures were being effected to ensure that illicit bunkering and refining activities are stamped out in the region.
821.3m barrels lost to single
Blaring complaints of sky-high bunkering activities and bustling illegal refining of crude oil operations by dare-devil operators in the creeks and even in open places in the Niger Delta region coupled with excruciating drop in state owned oil production, the federal government was no longer comfortable with these and the massive leakages in its finances, decided to tackle headlong the operation of these illegal activities.
Seething with rage over the inability to meet its bulging financial responsibilities to provide basic infrastructure to grow the economy and better the life of Nigerians, the government instructed the military and other security operatives to make their presence felt by eliminating all traces of illegal crude oil operations in the region.
It seems the operations may have yielded some level of successes as the onslaughts on the illegal operations and their operators and even collaborators have resulted in desertion of the creeks and abandonment of illegal bunkering and refining activities as they scampered for safety.
A community leader and renowned anti-pipelines vandalism campaigner, Futek Zaporagha, in a telephone chat midweek corroborated assertions that illegal refining activities in the creeks across the region have dimmed.
Zaporagha revealed that many of the operators have found alternative means of livelihood in the high sea, albeit he was quick to add that it is still related to crude oil and products theft.
Product theft has been a major drawback on the federal government forcing all levels of governance almost to a standstill because of gross shortfall in revenue accruable from Nigeria’s mainstay of resources-crude oil.
Though the federal government has resorted to repeated borrowing to meet necessary infrastructural provisions, even payment of monthly remunerations, and the dip in revenue has been excruciating, compelling an equally drastic approach to curbing leakages in sources of revenue.
Few months ago, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, Group Managing Director, Mr Mere Kyari, gave details of how Nigeria’s crude oil was stolen by a network of oil thieves using a vessel with registration number L85 B9.50 with five compartments of about 600 to 650 cubic meters, which was seized near Escravos in the Warri South West local government area.
According to him, the vessel has been exporting about 250,000 barrels per day of crude oil for nine years and was only recently discovered during a clampdown on illegal crude oil activities. Ironically, it was a private agency that carried out the discovery and arrest of the evil vessel.
“In the course of the clampdown within the last six weeks, 395 illegal refineries have been deactivated, 274 reservoirs destroyed, 1,561 metal tanks destroyed, and 49 trucks seized.
“The most striking of all is the four-kilometre illegal oil connection line from Forcados Terminal into the sea which had been in operation undetected for nine solid years,” he said.
Based on Kyari’s statement, if the vessel exports 250,000 barrels per day it would amount to 91,250,000 bpd and in nine years the single vessel had exported illegally from Nigeria 821, 250,000 barrels of crude oil. The sum of that would be mind-boggling considering the graphic upward movements of the United States dollars, the means for purchasing and calculating the value.
Though Nigeria’s OPEC quota stands at 1.8 million bpd, she currently produces an embarrassingly less than one million bpd.
The Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NUPRIC) October Crude Oil Production Report indicated that the daily crude oil production output averaged 1,014,485 bpd last month. Prior to the latest review, the daily crude oil production output was put at 972,000 bpd in August, and 937,000 in September.
However, despite the rise in the daily crude oil production output, the 1,014,485 bpd recorded in October 2022 is still below the 1,083,899 barrels per day reported in July.
‘700,000 barrels lost daily to thieves’
Before the latest NUPRIC disclosure, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Ambassador Gabriel Aduda, during the graduation ceremony of the 2022 students of the Petroleum Training Institute Effurum, Warri, Delta state, had painfully disclosed that oil theft has impacted negatively on the nation’s foreign exchange inflow.
“Oil theft has denied the country of an estimated 700,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The adverse effect of this is the drop in the production of crude oil and the decline in national income,” Aduda, who represented the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipreye Sylva, said.
Impact of assault
A top insider in the operation of bunkering and illegal refining business who resides near Forcado Terminal, confirmed a fortnight ago that illegal bunkering and refining operators have deserted the creeks because it has become very uncomfortable for them.
The insider in a telephone chat said, “Now, in the creeks, the operators of illegal refineries have ceased work and are scampering for safety. But they have shifted attention to the high sea where big players in the illegal business have relocated and are operating there.
“The military has succeeded in chasing the small flies in the creeks away from the lucrative business. It is now mainly for the bug guns with the material capacity and manpower and financial resources to sustain the operation on the high sea.
“Those with the military backing and in corroboration with some oil company officials have shifted base to the high sea. Of course, the officials inform them when the federal government will load its products at the Forcado Terminal and they use the abandoned Agip jacket after linking it with the Shell pipelines to load their products at the high sea and sell to waiting buyers unmolested since they are those entrusted with safe-guarding the sea from intruders”, the angry self-acclaimed ex-operator of illegal bunkering, who did not want his name in print, said.
Uneasy calm over ultimatum
Blueprint Weekend also learnt all was not well between the military and the Tantita Security Services Limited (TSSL) a private security outfit owned by ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who is under a federal government contract to secure crude oil and petroleum installations in the region.
The contract though has not gone down well with established federal government security outfits, especially the army and Navy.
According to a source who, firstly confirmed that TANTITA has a signed contract with the government contrary to speculations that he was yet to formalise the arrangement, noting that the capture of a vessel in some three months ago after it evaded the army and navy had infuriated the leadership of the military.
The vessel was eventually destroyed by the military in what many suspected was allegedly done to cover up essential details about the ship and its operations including ownership.
“Recall also that TANTITA was able to arrest a ship loaded with 250,000 barrels of crude oil which the military could not. But the military, whatever the reason, decided to destroy the ship. (Some have suspected that it was deliberately done to destroy whatever tangible evidence there could be which could have facilitated the identity of the owners of the ship).
In retaliation, the military damaged two privately owned ships on the high sea but subsequently accused Tompolo’s boys of being responsible.
The military also gave Tompolo two weeks ultimatum to produce the ships or face dire consequences.
“This occurred last month. So, currently, the military and TANTITA are like cat and dog on the high sea because the military feels that the former has usurped its responsibility as well as blocked them from making illicit money,” the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.
He said the only way bunkering and illegal refining activities can be curbed was the total overhaul of the commanding officers of respective military outfits serving in the region at present.