MT Tura II Scandal: How cabal stole crude oil from Nigeria for 12 years
•Vessel arrested in 2013 but disappeared from EFCC custody
•Changes identity after disappearance, resumes illegal operation in Nig
•Security operatives leaked information to oil cabal
•What Tinubu, security chiefs must do
THE Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, a private pipeline surveillance company, operated by the ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, in the Niger Delta, saved the nation’s security a total embarrassment, penultimate Friday.
Lamentably, no matter how security officials show off and deodorize the take into custody of the infamous ocean-going vessel, MT Tura II, (International Maritime Organization, IMO, number: 6620462) caught with illegal 150,000 metric tons of illegal crude oil worth $86.8m by TSSNL, and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC operatives, it remains an appalling affair.
Commanders of Operation DELTA SAFE, South-South Operations, Rear Admiral Olusegun Ferreira, and Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS Delta, Commodore Chindo Yahaya, were onboard the villainous vessel in their full insignia at Oporoza community, Gbaramatu clan, Warri South-West Local Government Area, Delta State, where TSSNL anchored it, after the seizure to brief reporters.
Executive Director, Technical and Operation, TSSNL, Captain Warredi Enisuoh, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL, and NSCDC representatives were also on hand.
Rear Admiral Ferreira, who described the arrest as one of the success stories in the ongoing synergy between the military and Tantita security operative, noted: “We are here over this vessel involved in oil theft and arrested off the coast of Escravos. We had information from our partner, private security over activities of the vessel. We will continue to take on oil thieves threatening our common patrimony,” Rear Admiral Ferreira asserted.
Meanwhile, he assured that the investigation into the arrest of MT Tura II had commenced in earnest and those arrested would be further scrutinized for the role they played in the crime.
What Rear Admiral Ferreira did not tell Nigerians
Rear Admiral Ferreira’s assurance of thorough investigations made no impression on some insiders of the oil industry, familiar with how the oil cabal carries out oil bunkering activities and does everything to buy justice. Both insiders and citizens alike became even more enraged, during the week when the heads of the nation’s security decided to set the vessel and its contents ablaze, rather than keep them as exhibits for the prosecution of the suspects.
Outrageously, MT Tura II arrested by TSSNL operatives on July 7, 2023, is the same as MT ALLI-RIZA BEY, which the NNS Cobra, on July 28, 2013, apprehended while transferring petroleum product suspected to be Automative Gas Oil, AGO, to some smaller boats offshore Escravos.
The Nigerian Navy handed over MV SOA, which originally applied to the NNS BEECROFT to lift AGO from Calabar to Lagos with a valid clearance until August 2013, and MT ALLI –RIZA BEY with six suspects to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, October 2, 2013, for further investigation and possible prosecution.
Against the Standing Operation Procedures, SOP, and approval granted, MV SOA was operating in Escravos while MT ALLI –RIZA BEY, now MT Tura II in 2023 was doing its surreptitious craft.
The truth is that an oil cartel had engaged MT Tura II in the last 12 years in pilfering crude oil from Nigeria to neighboring countries.
Chief Corporate Communications Officer, NNPC Limited, Garba Deen Muhammad, in a statement, on the seizure of the tarnished sea tanker, said: “Following the receipt of credible intelligence, a private security contractor engaged by the NNPC Limited, Messrs Tantita Security Services intercepted a suspicious vessel with a cargo of crude oil on board on July 7, 2023.
“The vessel, MT TURA II (IMO number: 6620462), owned by a Nigerian registered company, HOLAB MARITIME SERVICES LIMITED with registration number RC813311, was heading to Cameroun with the cargo on board when it was apprehended at an offshore location (Latitude: 5.8197194477543235°, Longitude: 4.789002723991871°), with the Captain and Crew members on board.
“Preliminary investigations revealed that the crude oil cargo onboard was illegally sourced from a well jacket offshore Ondo State, Nigeria. There was no valid documentation for the Vessel or the Crude Oil Cargo onboard at the time of the arrest.
“Further investigation into the activities of the vessel at the NNPC Ltd. Command and Control Centre also revealed that the vessel has been operating in stealth mode for the last twelve (12) years. The last reported location of the vessel was Tin Can Port in July 2011.
“Details of this arrest and the outcomes of the investigations were escalated to the appropriate government authorities, upon which it was concluded to destroy the vessel to serve as a strong warning and deterrent to all those participating in such illegal activities to cease and desist.
“Destroying vessels involved in transporting stolen crude oil is of paramount importance as a strong deterrent. The illegal trade of stolen crude oil not only inflicts significant economic losses on Nigeria and legitimate stakeholders in the oil industry, but also perpetuates a cycle of corruption, environmental devastation, and social instability. NNPC Limited assures Nigerians that we will sustain the momentum in the war against crude oil theft until it is brought to a halt,” he added.
How did the vessel escape from EFCC custody?
Findings show that the vessel built in Turkey in 1965, with a storage capacity of 500,000 metric tons, was first registered under the name ‘Ali Riza Bey’ in Togo, and found its way to Nigerian waterways in 2012 when it resumed illegal bunkering operations conveying stolen crude to Ghana, Cameroon and Togo and offloading to other vessels. The impounded vessel reportedly had a history of changing identities after apprehension, and resuming its illegal operations along the waterways, due to the influence of the powerful cartel operating it within the nation’s maritime space. The operators incorporated its latest name, MT Tura II, in all the global satellite networks on shipping, but no federal government agency registered it. However, it had operated within the nation’s territorial waters for over a decade. What is strange to insiders was how the vessel arrested and handed over to the EFCC for prosecution in 2013 found itself in the territorial waterways of the country 10 years after. How did the vessel get out and start operation once again?
How the cabal almost deceived Tantita operatives
Findings by Saturday Vanguard, however, show that under its false identity, MT Tura II, sponsored by powerful crude oil dealers left Lagos to illegally lift crude oil in the Niger Delta without any certification. Except when powerful people are behind it, it is practically impossible for any vessel to sail all the way from Lagos to the Niger Delta the manner MT Tura II successfully did without the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA detecting it with their available tracking system. The vessel would not also have evaded Operation DELTA SAFE on the standard route from Lagos to Ondo State where TSSNL and NSCDC operatives apprehended it, except “something” happened along the line.
Credible sources told our reporters that TSSNL suspected the vessel and was independently tracking it when it entered the waterways of the Niger Delta.
However, the owners of the ship avoided Delta state, where Tompolo lives to distract the TSSNL, but the surveillance company had its operatives in Ondo state.
“When TSSNL operatives became certain of the illegal mission of the vessel and ready to strike, it contacted other security agencies, and its operatives actually stormed the scene with NSCDC officials.
“Something surprising happened, before the TSSNL got to the vessel, the information had leaked to the captain of the vessel that Tompolo’s men were coming. They escaped with the vessel from the wellhead they were already siphoning crude oil, threw away the hose and other gadgets that would give away crew as oil thieves.
“The Tantita operatives did not meet them at the location, but they could not be deceived either, as they followed their scent, observing on their trail the hose and other gadgets they flung away to avoid detection. They did not cover the wellhead which they professionally uncorked while running away, and within the interval, it was already polluting and causing harm to the environment.
“The oil cabal is working with professionals in the oil companies, if not, how did they know the exact oil well that had high pressure and went for it? Who opened the oil well head for them; it is not something a non-expert could open. They knew Tantita operatives were coming, and ran away from the scene. How did they know? An industry source, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard fumed.
The commotion over the burning of the vessel
Stakeholders were still trying to comprehend why a thieving vessel could sail from Lagos to Niger Delta to steal crude oil, and ferrying crude oil from Nigeria to neighboring African countries for over a decade without detection, when the MT Tura II was set ablaze.
This raised another dust with people saying that burning the vessel was akin to jungle justice and covering the tracks for the oil cabal, as it would not take clever lawyers much time to get the court to throw out a case in which security officials destroyed the exhibits.
A lawyer and former president of Ijaw Youth Council, Mr. Eric Omare, who has been consistent in his condemnation of the burning of oil bunkering vessels, said the destruction of the vessel was an unlawful act.
“Obviously, the destruction of the vessel used for illegal bunkering is unlawful, injurious to the environment, and deserves condemnation. There is no justification for it and the federal government may face legal action to pay damages for the destruction of the aquatic life of the people around the place where they destroyed the vessel”, Omare argued.
Chair of the Centre of Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, Alaowei Cleric, who took up the matter when the military burnt a confiscated vessel, MT. Deima, last year, asserted; “it is condemnable; one of the reasons NNPCL has chosen to engage private companies to secure the pipelines is the environmental despoliation by the economic saboteurs. In fact, the security agents, who destroyed that vessel, have committed a grave environmental degradation.
“NNPCL and the Defence Headquarters should call the military to order before they further abuse the environment with impunity. We will not hesitate to take remedial action against NNPCL and the security agencies should there be any repeat of this grievous act. Destruction of proceeds of crime may sabotage Tompolo’s efforts in ridding the Niger Delta region of oil theft. NNPCL and the military hierarchy should, therefore, caution the security agents guiding the nation’s oil facilities in the region,” he said.
Tinubu, security chiefs should not be fooled
Multiple stakeholders, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, advised President Bola Tinubu and the Security Chiefs to probe the re-emergence of MT ALLI –RIZA BEY arrested in 2013 as MT Tura II in 2023, and fish out those behind its latest escapade, which they could have concealed with their security collaborators but for the vigilant eyes of Tompolo’s boys.
One stakeholder said, “The Nigerian way of investigation, which of course we have seen in the past is that the military, which is not supposed to destroy the evidence to be used for prosecution, usually destroys the evidence. Therefore, if they destroy the evidence and the case goes to court, the lawyer on the other side will argue that you did not bring this evidence and that evidence, the case is invalid. The court will then throw out the case.”
“It is good to investigate to find the underlying cause of these things, but in this country, they choose to destroy evidence; it is akin to jungle justice. The NIMASA, Navy, and others are supposed to have tracked the vessel. No such vessel can come from Lagos to Niger Delta without clearance from the Navy, therefore, the authorities allowed them for illegal purposes. President Tinubu and the security chiefs should find the underlying cause of this matter,” he added.
Why we burnt the vessel — Captain Enisuoh
The Executive Director, Technical and Operations, Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, Captain Warredi Enisuoh, has given reasons the arrested MT Tura II vessel was destroyed. Captain Enisuoh, who led journalists to witness the destruction of the vessel which was arrested off the coast of Escravos Waters, at a border point between Delta and Ondo states on the waterway said the destruction would save the country the stress of litigation and stop the vessel from finding its way back to the waterways for similar crime. According to him, MT Tura II was allegedly notorious for oil theft, stressing that this was not the first time it was arrested for oil theft.
He said the ship changed its name after it allegedly escaped from the custody of one of the security agencies, some few years back, and was registered with this new name to sail on the nation’s water.
“This particular vessel is a classic case. It was arrested before and it escaped from the custody of a security agency and then continued its crime with another name on our waters. Vessels like this cause more pollution to the environment when you let them remain. So, destroying them put an end to their pollution and crime. Destroying the vessels also saves the country from protracted court cases,” he said.
“When we set it on fire, it’s all metal that will be left. Before we set on fire we take the ship to a very safe place to destroy. Places that will not cause navigational problems for other ships. This is less pollution because we set it on fire. In addition, it incinerates into the atmosphere. We are in support of the destruction of vessels arrested for crude,” he added.
Destruction of MT Tura II
Tantita security staffers, military personnel, men of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and journalists were mobilized to the scene, which is less than thirty minutes boat drive from Warri on the Warri River with about twelve boats, including gunboats. Men of NSCDC assisted by the staff of Tantita went onboard the vessel with some jerricans of petrol, set the vessel on fire, and came back to their boats.
Captain Enisuoh said the smoke would guide a military helicopter to the location to further fire destructive shots on the vessel from the air. Barely two hours later the military helicopter was in the air, firing heavily at the vessel, with a portion of it bursting into balls of flames. The strong metals of the vessel were seemingly intact after the military onslaught but it was clear that severe damage had been done to it before the helicopter retreated.