Navy Hunts For Owner of Abandoned Merchant Vessel CECELIA Over Illegally Refined Products, Refutes Seizure Allegation

The Nigerian Navy (NN) and military troops of Operation DELTA SAFE (OPDS) have said, they are on the lookout to arrest suspected criminals and owner of Merchant Vessel (MV) CECELIA who conducted oil theft, illegally refined products using MV CECELIA as storage. 

Director of Information, Commodore AO Ayo Vaughan in a press statement on Sunday said this when reacting to spurious and baseless allegations by the alleged owner of Merchant Vessel (MV) CECELIA who recently claimed that their vessel was seized and burnt by the Nigerian Navy.

The alleged owner of the vessel and Managing Director of Soljas Limited, Chief Jasper Ako, at a media briefing in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Friday had alleged that the action of the Navy was illegal and high-handed, arguing that neither was an investigation conducted nor the owner of the vessel contacted, or arrested for culpability.

The Company lawyer, Augustine Ojekudo, who spoke on his behalf said the Navy must be made to pay damages for its action.

In his press statement today, the Nigerian Navy spokesperson noted that the behaviour of the alleged owner is not surprising, as it has been the practice among oil thieves. In some cases where vessels involved in oil theft are arrested, the owners abscond leaving the Nigerian Navy to bear the cost of keeping and sustaining the vessels. This has cost the nation huge sums of money and has constituted serious national security problems. 

Commodore Vaughan in his statement said for the avoidance of doubt and to set the records straight, MV CECELIA has been a vessel of interest and was being tracked for allegations of oil theft. 

He said the vessel was arrested on 15 August 2023 with products suspected to be illegally refined AGO at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State following an operation by the Naval Component of OPDS. A press interview was conducted immediately after the arrest, however, the owners of the vessel remained at large.

"Subsequently, the sample of the products onboard the vessel was taken for laboratory analysis and it was discovered to be illicit AGO. Pertinently, the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with the  extant procedure

"Most of the vessels either sink alongside the jetty or within the channel constituting serious navigational hazards. These abandoned vessels have been the major reason why the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the past, declared the nation’s ports/waterways as the most unsafe ports in the region. This has been a contributing factor to the high insurance premium on ships operating in Nigerian waters with a negative impact on the nation’s economy. 

"Suffice it to state that NIMASA, NPA and the NN have expended huge sums of money in the clearing of wrecks in the waterways that resulted from abandoned vessels engaged in oil theft. 

"The public is to note that MV CECELIA has not been operational and has been alongside for about 2 years. At the time of the arrest, the vessel was laden with about 250,000 litres of illicit AGO. So far 3 suspects have been arrested and have made useful statements while the alleged owners remained at large." he added.

Vaughan revealed that the vessel has no NNPCL or any other regulatory approval to serve as an AGO storage facility. This fact is known to the NN and OPDS as all approved storage facilities are usually communicated to Naval Headquarters by relevant agencies for monitoring. It is important to note that the intelligence revealed that illegally refined products are received onboard MV CECELIA for storage. 

He noted that one of the suspects revealed that they usually bring illegally refined AGO in ‘Cotonou’ (large wooden) boats and Geepee tanks and offload into MV CECELIA pending when it will be sold to unsuspecting members of the public. Unfortunately,t this practice has been on without being detected until the recent re-invigorated intelligence-led operations by OPDS and the NN.

"The arrest of MV CECELIA is therefore a milestone achievement in the renewed drive to rid the Niger Delta of the illicit crime of oil theft.

"Accordingly, the NN and OPDS will not be hindered by the usual antics of the oil thieves. These sometimes include the owners claiming ignorance of the use of their vessels for illegalities," he stressed  

He noted that the NN and OPDS remain law abiding and will continue to carry out its statutory roles of fighting oil theft including destruction of platforms used to carry out the illegalities in line with extant Presidential directives.

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