Nigerian Navy and Security Contractor in Fight Over Oil Theft Crackdown
A Nigerian private security company that in recent weeks was credited with spearheading the successful missions to crack down on oil thefts is now being accused by the Nigerian Navy of being too aggressive and overstepping its authority. At the center of the dispute is the detention of a tanker the Praisel which the security company accused of allegedly stealing oil in the Koko area of Delta State. This comes just weeks after another detention lead to the destruction of a ship also accused of oil theft.
Tantita Security Services is a private security contractor headed by ex-militant leader, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. The Nigerian Navy is now accusing it of “high-handedness and unprofessional conduct” in the arrest of Praisel. The navy reports that high pour fuel oil (HPFO) product aboard the vessel was approved by various authorities and was not stolen as alleged.
Tantita however defended itself from the accusations, stating that it acted on “credible intelligence” that Praisel, planned to steal the oil by sailing on the opposite direction to Bonny. The vessel had only obtained approval to deliver the product from Koko to Lagos Offshore they argue.
“In the circumstances, there were reasonable grounds to be suspicious of the movement of MT Praisel in the opposite direction,” said Tantita in a statement.
Despite attracting praise for leading the war on oil theft due to its first-hand knowledge of the pipeline network particularly in the Niger Delta, Tantita’s modus operandi is now coming under scrutiny with the navy raising concerns the outfit is becoming a growing threat to legitimate commercial activities and businesses in the maritime environment.
Just last month, Tantita played a central role in the seizure and destruction of a small tanker identified as the Tura II for allegedly stealing oil from an offshore well in Ondo State.
In the case of Praisel, a 1,165 dwt oil product tanker built in 1999, the forces seized the vessel on August 4 after having detained it for testing of the product on board. The vessel is reportedly sailing under the flag of Nigeria, although Tantia reported it was flying a Togolese flag.
According to the Nigerian Navy, the tanker was approved by the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) to load 1,114,721 liters of HPFO from Greenmac Energy jetty in Koko over the period from July 26 to August 8. In line with standard operating procedure and to ensure strict compliance with NMDPRA approval, Navy personnel were deployed onboard to monitor the discharge of the product at a facility at Bonny.
The navy highlights that on August 2, Tantita claiming to act on intelligence alleged that the vessel was laden with stolen crude oil and boarded the vessel to verify the stolen product, something that prompted the navy to direct Praisel to sail to forward operating base Escravos anchorage for investigations of the product onboard.
At the base, five government agencies including the navy, NMDPRA, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL), and Tantita collected samples of the oil that were subjected to laboratory tests with results indicating the product displayed properties consistent with Nigerian industrial standard specification for HPFO.
“This result, therefore, proves that the allegation and suspicion were totally wrong, unfounded, and perhaps mischievous. The intelligence which was said to have been received in respect of the vessel and its product is equally wrong,” said Commodore Ayo-Vaughan, Navy spokesperson in a statement.
He added the singular incident brings to the fore the high-handedness and unprofessional conduct displayed, with its attendant negative consequences for the supplier and buyer of the product, the vessel hired to convey it, and other parties involved in the legitimate business.
Tantita, however, is alleging attempts by the navy to cover up a case of oil theft. The security contractor released a statement asserting that on August 1, it received credible intelligence that Praisel, which had obtained NMDPRA approval to deliver HPFO from Koko to Lagos Offshore would be proceeding in the opposite direction to Bonny
On August 2, the firm’s operatives approached the tanker as it made its way through a creek in Delta State o? Benin River where they boarded the vessel to get further clarification from the crew as to the discrepancy between NMDPRA permit, a development that ignited a confrontation with the Navy personnel onboard leading to the tanker anchoring o? Escravos roads for further investigation.
“We are all aware that unscrupulous elements can take advantage of existing gaps in procedures to clandestinely transport and sell stolen crude and illegally refined products,” said Tantita.
The security contractor added that in the course of several joint meetings with Nigerian authorities, it has consistently asked for a single clearing house for all approvals so that each agency of government can see what the other is approving or has approved to avoid cases like the one that involved the Praisel.