What happened to the 8.5 million barrels of crude oil in the bowel of MT Vanessa, the foreign vessel arrested by the Nigerian navy last week?
After one week of snubbing the House of Representatives upstream petroleum committee investigating oil bunkering in the Niger Delta, naval chiefs showed up Thursday claiming that the vessel was not laden with crude oil and that media reporting that gave the impression were flat out wrong.
This new mystery around the presumed content of MT Vanessa confirms the worry of members of the committee who had voiced out loudly that the tradition of disappearing crude contents in ships seized by the navy must not repeat itself this time.
“We don’t want to hear that the content of the ship has disappeared,” chairman of the committee, Muraina Ajibola, had said on Wednesday while insisting the committee would only receive presentation from the Chief of Naval Staff, Ola Ibrahim.
Mr. Ajibola said the ship contained 8.5m barrels of crude oil, and later named a sub-committee to, within 72 hours, verify the situation with the ship. The committee also directed the navy to hand over the ship to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The lawmakers had earlier blamed the Navy for not providing adequate security and coastal patrol through where stolen oil are siphoned across daily with attendant loss for the nation nearing N1 trillion annually, according to industry experts.
Shell Nigeria, told the committee on Tuesday 150,000 barrels of its crude are stolen from the pipelines, moved through barges to waiting ships, many foreign, offshore.
Nigeria Agip Oil Company said it loses about One million barrels monthly. The multinationals say the oil cartels, operated like illicit drug trade, should have been minimized if security patrols in the waterways had been heightened. The naval authorities have announced the arrest of several illegal oil-laden ships in the past.
But with many of the vessels later reported to have escaped, the lawmakers have pointed at the possible collusion between government officials, security agents and the illegal oil traders.
But contrary to the claims of the committee, the Chief of Naval Staff, Mr. Ibrahim, who appeared on Thursday after the committee warned of arrest, denied the vessel was arrested with crude oil aboard.
Vice Admiral Ibrahim said there were wrong media reportage of the seized ship. He also disputed the claims of the committee that ship was French. He said it was a Belgian.
After the disclosure, the hearing went into executive session.
The CNS said oil theft thrived due to the connivance of insiders who worked in oil companies before, lack of information sharing between security agencies as well a ready international market for the product.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Oluseyi Petinrin, who also appeared, said the military had made fresh initiatives on how to stem the trade by registering all boats and barges plying Nigerian coastal waters.
The Defence chief apologized for not attending the committee’s previous sittings. In addition, the boats or barges conveying crude oil must also be registered with an oil producing company.
“With the registrations, we would be able to have the identity of the owners in the event of any occurrence,” he said. “There were instances where my men would apprehend some of these boats but the next thing is that they will just jump into the water and swim away abandoning the boat.”
The CDS blamed regulatory agencies partly for encouraging the illegal trade by not having proper documentation of the boats and barges operating in the Niger Delta region.
Prior to the intervention of the Defence Headquarters, oil companies were recording loss of 9 million barrels of crude monthly, he said.