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Nigerian Navy Arrests Anti-Oil-Theft Contractors

Nigerian Navy boarding team during an exercise, 2023 (USN file image)
Nigerian Navy boarding team during an exercise, 2023 (USN file image)

Published Sep 4, 2023 7:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Nigerian Navy has arrested a team of operatives from an anti-oil-theft security firm, alleging that they were involved in oil theft. 

The service branch has been linked to corruption and oil theft in the Niger Delta for decades, though it denies that it has a systemic problem. It has recently begun to clash with a private security company, Tantita Security Services, which has a new government mandate to crack down on rampant illegal siphoning of petroleum. Tantita, founded by the former rebel and pipeline saboteur known as Tompolo, has quickly made a name for itself in busting (and burning) illegal oil theft vessels - but it may be getting a bit too close to official business for comfort.

On August 28, the Nigerian Navy arrested, detained and paraded four (or five) Tantita operatives near Lekki, in Lagos State. The Navy claimed that the men had been caught with a wooden vessel containing 11 1,000-liter plastic tanks filled with stolen crude oil. 

Tantita put the story differently. According to the security contractor, eight of its operatives were pursuing a wooden boat which had loaded crude oil illegally at an offshore well jacket, located in Cavendish Petroleum's OML 110 block. (Tantita and government security forces caught another vessel at the same spot earlier this year.)

In a statement, Tantita said that its eight operatives chased after the wooden boat, and as they approached, the oil thieves abandoned ship into a smaller speedboat and attempted to escape. The eight security contractors split up, with three men staying with the oil theft vessel and the other five attempting to chase down the speedboat. 

The escaping speedboat with the suspected oil thieves made directly for the Nigerian Navy Forward Operating Base at Ibeju-Lekki, according to Tantita. When the suspects and their pursuers arrived at the base, Nigerian Navy personnel promptly let the oil thieves go and arrested the Tantita contractors. 

“These family men put their lives at risk for the good of the nation and are now being made to suffer ridicule for doing the right thing. It serves to demoralise good men everywhere who have sought and are seeking to do something to better our nation," Tantita said in a statement, alleging that it had knowledge of further improprieties. 

The detention of anti-oil-theft contractors appears to have parallels with the Nigerian Navy's other maritime law enforcement efforts. The agency has repeatedly used Nigeria's anti-piracy laws to arrest anti-piracy contractors, as well as the merchant seafarers that the laws were enacted to protect. 

It is also not the first time that the Nigerian Navy has clashed with Tantita. Last month, Tantita got a tip that the tanker Praisel would be delivering HFO from the loading pier at Koko to the wrong destination. The firm's operatives found and boarded the tanker on the Benin River, and they found Nigerian Navy personnel already on board the ship. Testing of the product confirmed that the tanker was carrying HFO, not crude; the Navy maintains that the voyage was approved and legitimate.  

“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 in a statement.