DELTA – Two Britons and 12 Nigerian technicians have been arrested by the Niger Delta Joint Task Force (JTF) for their alleged involvement in illegal bunkering along the Chanomi Creek in the western delta.
The suspects allegedly tried to bribe the JTF operatives with the sum of $66,500 to create safe passage for them to siphon crude oil into their barges from a Shell Petroleum Development Company pipeline in the creek.
Their luck however, ran out as the security operatives did not cooperate with them.
The two Britons identified are Messrs Piers Eastwood and Vincent Haywood attached to a United Kingdom based maritime security firm with regional branch in Lagos, according to the JTF, were to provide security/consultancy to MT Crete, a vessel believed to have positioned at Brass open waters for supposed illegal bunkering.
Trouble, it was learnt, started for the suspects when on Monday, March 17 2014, a representative of a firm (name withheld) approached the JTF Headquarters, with an approval letter from the Nigerian Navy Ship Delta and an authorization from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation NNPC through the Naval Headquarters.
The approval, Saturday Vanguard learnt, was to evacuate products from an arrested vessel under the custody of the NN at NNS DELTA between 12 March -14 April 2014.
The Joint Task Force approval was reportedly issued and immediately, the headquarters directed Sector 1 of the special security outfit to monitor their activities in the waterways.
Speaking to newsmen yesterday at the headquarters of the JTF in Yenagoa where the suspects were paraded, the commander of the outfit, Major General Emmanuel Atewe who was represented by the Media Coordinator, JMCC Col Onyema Nwachukwu said they were arrested by operatives of the task force as part of ongoing effort to combat the menace of crude oil theft and other sundry crimes in the region.
According to him, “the Operations officer of 3 Battalion discovered through their confession that their intention was to hack into one of SPDC pipelines in Chanomi creek, Warri Delta State and siphon crude oil.
”They gave him as an initial payment, a bribe of $5,000 for recharge card and $1500 to fuel a gunboat that will escort the stolen crude oil.”
According to him, they requested the Operations Officer of 3 Battalion to facilitate a meeting with the Commander 4 Brigade, Brig Gen Fidelis Azinta.
Continuing he said, “the meeting was convened as a bait on March 20, 2014 at the Brigade Commander’s office. During the meeting, the suspects expressed their desire to connect a hose to SPDC pipeline along the Chanomi creek in Delta State so as to illegally siphon crude oil into barges.
”While in the Brigade Commander’s office, they promised to bribe the Brigade’s Commander, with the sum of N20m as well as take care of the officers and soldiers along the Chanomi creek.
”On 21 March 2014, one of the suspects brought to the Brigade Commander $60,000 which translates to N10m being 50 per cent of the N20m promised. The suspects were immediately arrested for attempting to bribe the Brigade Commander for economic sabotage.
”Twelve technicians who were to connect the hoses to facilitate the theft and their implements were also arrested.”
He added that a follow up operation subsequently led to the arrest of two Britons, who were in company of seven Nigeria policemen led by an inspector.
The two Britons, according to the JTF commander were security consultants from a United Kingdom- based port maritime security firm with regional branch in Lagos.
”The two flew into Lagos on 20 March and left for Port Harcourt same day where they met with a Nigerian (one Bello) who was supposed to be their point of contact. The two Britons were to provide security escort/consultancy to MT Crete, a vessel believed to have been positioned at Brass open waters for suspected illegal oil bunkering”.
Gen Awete revealed that all the suspects and exhibits were transferred to JTF headquarters on March 23 for further investigation adding that a joint investigation team was immediately constituted to carry out a preliminary investigation where all the suspects and witnesses were invited and also examined the exhibits, documents and equipment recovered.
This include, the sixty thousand dollars offered to Brig Gen Azinta, the six thousand five hundred dollars offered to Capt M Abdullahi which were displayed to newsmen.
The suspects were later handed over to the Department of State Security for prosecution.