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Nigerian Navy Says Arrested Vessel, MV Cecelia, Laden with 250,000 Litres of Illicit AGO

They said the vessel was previously being tracked for allegation of oil theft.

The Nigerian Navy, over the weekend, explained the rationale behind the arrest of merchant vessel, MV Cecelia, saying the vessel was involved in transportation of illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO).

A statement signed by the Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, Ayo-Vaughan, stated that contrary to allegations by the owners of the vessel that the Navy burnt the vessel, the merchant vessel was abandoned by the owners at the point of arrest.

It said at the time of the arrest, the vessel was laden with 250,000 litres of illicit AGO.

“The attention of the Nigerian Navy (NN) and Operation Delta Safe (OPDS) has been drawn to the 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 NN.

“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.

“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”, it said.

The statement maintained that the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with extant procedure.

“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 NN 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.

“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 Organisation (IMO) in the past, declared the nation’s ports/waterways as the most unsafe ports in the region,” it added.

The naval headquarters said, “this has been a contributing factor to the high insurance premium on ships operating in Nigerian waters with negative impact on the nation’s economy.

“Suffice 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 two 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”.

It said the vessel had no NNPCL or any other regulatory approval to serve as an AGO storage facility, stating that “this fact is clearly 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.

“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. It is unfortunate that this practice has been on without being detected until the recent re-invigorated intelligence-led operations by OPDS and the NN.”

Kingsley Nwezeh, Sunday Aborisade in Abuja and Sylvester Idowu in Warri

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