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Nigerian Navy Burns Suspected Smuggling Tanker Without Court Order

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

Published Aug 25, 2023 1:42 AM by The Maritime Executive

For the third time, the Nigerian Navy has swiftly destroyed a suspected oil-smuggling vessel without first obtaining a court order. 

In the latest case, the seized crewboat Cecilia was allegedly found to contain about 350,000 liters of illegally-refined diesel fuel. Its water tanks had been converted into product tanks, according to the Nigerian Navy. The service seized the Cecilia and arrested three crewmembers; the vessel was emplaced along the side of a waterway and burned. 

According to the Nigerian Navy, the Cecilia had been used as a stationary storage tank for the products of illegal mini-refinery operators. Crudely-constructed miniature refinery operations are common in the Niger Delta, and are typically operated by gangs using stolen oil.

"They would bring their products here to be stored, [and] other people would come here to purchase the products," said Commodore Adedokun Siyanbade, commander of NNS Pathfinder. He told ChannelsTV that this riverside operation had gone undetected for two years. 

Augustine Ojekudo, a lawyer for the vessel's owner, expressed concern that the Cecilia had been burned without due process. "When the owner has no involvement in any criminality, why should he lose his prized vessel, which is worth billions of naira?" Ojekudo told Channels TV. "Where is the court order authorizing the destruction of the vessel?"

The owner, Jasper Asko, plans to contest the matter in court. 

The Nigerian Navy has often been accused of oil smuggling itself, and good-governance advocates have called for a halt to the practice of destroying seized vessels in order to preserve any evidence on board - evidence which might implicate the ultimate sponsors of the activity. The burning and sinking of small tankers in the Niger Delta - one of the world's most polluted regions - has also raised environmental concerns.