by Tari Tamuno
The Joint Task Force (JTF) operating in the Niger Delta has impounded a vessel suspected to be carrying 1,000 tonnes of crude oil off the coast of Bonny Island in Rivers State.
Maj. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Commander of the 2 Brigade and Sector Two of JTF, paraded nine suspected crew members of the vessel in Bonny yesterday. Buratai, represented by Major Michael Etete, the 2 Brigade Army spokesman, said the Nigerian registered vessel was nabbed while illegally tapping crude oil from a pipeline. He said that the nine male crew members, who were arrested during a raid, were Nigerians.
“Following military intelligence report on Saturday, December 29, 2012, troops of Sector two deployed in Bonny, arrested a vessel registered MT Atlantic Star illegally tapping crude oil from a pipeline.
“At the time of the arrest, the vessel had loaded about 1,000 tonnes of stolen crude oil and nine crew members on board the vessel were also arrested.
“Further investigation is on-going and the suspects will be handed over to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps for prosecution.
“JTF restates its commitment toward stamping out oil theft, oil bunkering and other criminal activities within its area of responsibility in-line with its mandate,” he said.
Buratai called on the public and organisations to support and provide useful information that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of oil thieves in 2013.
In his defence Rauf Rasak, captain of the impounded vessel, said that his boat was hijacked by six gunmen, who threatened to kill the crew members if he refused to corporate. Rasak claimed that the gunmen took over navigation of the vessel, anchored it in Bonny and began loading it with the illegal crude oil.
“The gunmen had threatened to kill us if we didn’t co-operate; we had no choice than to obey.
“While loading the vessel with the crude oil; men of the JTF approached us and the gunmen fled the scene,” Rasak said. The captain said that the crew members were innocent of the charges brought against them by the JTF.