Nigerian Navy Seizes Panama-Registered Vessel in Crackdown on Oil Theft

Rear Admiral MB Hassan, Flag Officer Commanding the Western Naval Command, disclosed to reporters the meticulous surveillance conducted by the Navy, revealing that suspicions were raised when the vessel abruptly switched off its AIS signal on February 25

In a significant move to combat the rampant issue of oil theft plaguing the Gulf of Guinea region, the Nigerian Navy has intercepted and apprehended a Panama-registered bunker vessel, Sweet Miri, suspected of engaging in illicit activities.

The operation, executed over the weekend, saw the Navy tracking the vessel offshore before making the arrest with 13 crew members onboard.

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Rear Admiral MB Hassan, Flag Officer Commanding the Western Naval Command, disclosed to reporters the meticulous surveillance conducted by the Navy, revealing that suspicions were raised when the vessel abruptly switched off its AIS signal on February 25.

Subsequent investigation led to the dispatch of a gunboat to probe the suspicious activities of the Sweet Miri. A subsequent search operation involving multiple vessels culminated in the vessel’s interception, approximately 174 nautical miles from Nigerian waters en route to Benin.

The Navy’s thorough search yielded a significant discovery, with nearly two million litres of oil believed to be illegally obtained. The vessel, reportedly owned by a Ghanaian but managed out of the UAE according to databases, was promptly ordered to return to Nigeria for further investigation.

Under the command of Rear Admiral Hassan, the vessel and its crew of 13, comprising one Ghanaian and 12 Nigerians, have been placed under arrest. Furthermore, authorities have extended permission for other government departments to conduct thorough searches of the vessel.

This latest seizure forms part of a broader crackdown initiated by Nigerian authorities to curb the rampant instances of oil theft in the region. Over recent months, reports have surfaced of smaller vessels being detained on similar allegations.

The Nigerian Navy’s proactive measures against oil theft are underscored by previous high-profile cases, including the pursuit of the large tanker, Heroic Idum, in August 2022.

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The vessel, accused of loading stolen crude, sought refuge in Equatorial Guinea but was eventually handed back to Nigeria. Utilizing antipiracy laws, Nigerian authorities charged the crew, leading to a protracted legal battle.

After months of negotiation, a settlement was reached in April 2023, wherein the vessel’s operators issued a public apology and agreed to pay a substantial fine. However, it wasn’t until June 2023 that the crew members were finally released.

The interception of the Sweet Miri underscores Nigeria’s unwavering commitment to combating maritime crimes, particularly oil theft, which poses significant economic and environmental threats to the region.

With heightened vigilance and collaborative efforts across government agencies, Nigerian authorities aim to deter and apprehend perpetrators engaged in illegal activities at sea.

As investigations into the Sweet Miri’s activities continue, the Nigerian Navy remains steadfast in its mission to safeguard the nation’s maritime domain and preserve the integrity of its natural resources.

 

This article was created using automation technology and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our editorial staff members

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