The crew members said they were under duress from gunmen to load the vessel.
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.
The Commander of the 2 Brigade and Sector Two of JTF, Tukur Buratai, paraded nine suspected crew members of the vessel before journalists in Bonny on Tuesday.
Mr. Buratai, represented by Michael Etete, the 2 Brigade Army Public Relations Officer, said the Nigerian registered vessel was impounded while illegally tapping crude oil from a pipeline.
He said that the nine male crew members, who were arrested during a raid, are 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,” the spokesperson said.
He said as at the time of the arrest, the vessel had loaded about 1, 000 tonnes of stolen crude oil.
“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.
Mr. 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.
Meanwhile, Rauf Rasak, the Captain of the vessel, said that the vessel was hijacked by six gunmen, who threatened to kill the crew members if they refused to corporate.
Mr. Rasak claimed that the gunmen immediately took over navigation of the vessel and anchored it in Bonny and loaded the vessel with the illegal crude oil.
“The gunmen had threatened to kill us if we didn’t corporate; 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,” he said.
The captain said that the crew members are innocent of the charges brought against them by the JTF.