Concerns over destruction of vessels to tackle maritime crimes

There are worries about the military continuous burning of vessels caught with stolen crude on the nation’s waters, as stakeholders claimed that the actions are aimed at destroying evidence of the crimes.

A United States (U.S.) Certified Maritime Security Specialist, Captain Alfred Oniye, said arresting and burning the vessel amounts to destroying evidence, especially when the investigation has not been concluded.

“Some people are trying to play games around the stolen crude oil. Now, who owns and chartered the vessels? Who owns the product in it? Where were they loaded? Who gave them clearance to load?

“You can’t go and load without first getting clearance. Before you enter into the platform you are going to load, the security surrounding that platform will vet your clearance to be sure you have the clearance to load the crude oil. Now they cleared the vessel in and you are loaded, and they are taking the product to Cameroon and you are apprehended, this story is not clear and it is an organised crime,” he explained.

Oniye, who is also the Secretary General, the Merchant Seafarers Association of Nigeria, said rather than locate the receiver of the products, the seafarers are victimised, noting that they only have the responsibility to load and go and discharge the products.

The President, the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM) Captain Tajudeen Alao, said the burning of vessels caught with stolen crude by the military is an emerging trend that needed to be tackled frontally.

Alao argued that this practice would have been acceptable about 30 to 40 years ago when the international law on recycling and scrapping of ships was not in place.

He said in the last 10 to 15 years, there have been some conventions on burning, including the Hong Kong, Nairobi and the London conventions.

“It is at the extreme when you burn a boat and then you pollute the environment and release sulphur into the atmosphere. You destroy the ecosystem and the consequence is more than the trading profit. So, we need to come out with properly documented guidelines,” he said.

He also called on the Federal Government to come up with a law that would discourage the military from burning vessels caught with stolen crude on the nation’s waters.

The Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Chima Williams, decried the burning and destruction of vessels laden with stolen crude oil, describing the action as a worrisome and environmentally unfriendly way of curbing oil theft in the country.

Commenting on the economic implication of such activities, Williams said destroying and wasting away stolen crude, is a disservice to the country’s economy, as it could generate funds that will build infrastructures and better the lives of the people.

He said while the country is in heavy debt, the burnt vessels can be transformed into other uses like enhancing the work of seafarers in the country.

“Destroying barges of crude that run into millions is equivalent to denying the nation and its people of the revenue that can be derived from such large amounts of crude. This is a country in dire need of resources to rebuild the economy, build infrastructures and better the lives of the people.

Williams, while speaking on the legal implications of the destruction of vessels, described it as the destruction of evidence that could lead to proper prosecution of the case.

He further stressed that such actions wipe away the key principles of the rule of law, as the chances of conviction or proper acquittal are no longer visible.

According to him, this is a denial of justice to the nation, the individuals involved and the victims of their negative operational conduct and activities.

The environmental activist urged the military and security operatives to put an end to the burning of crude oil-laden vessels, as it goes against every tenet of environmental protection and health.

Former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Temisan Omatseye, cautioned security agencies to desist from this practice, raising alarm that this causes environmental and marine pollution that deprives dwellers in the riverine areas of their sources of livelihood.

Omatseye also raised the alarm that the practice of throwing dynamites into vessels suspected to be involved in the freighting of stolen crude oil destroys the marine ecosystem.

“They do not realise what they are doing to the environment, it is destroying the marine ecosystem and they need to stop this act,” he said.

By Adaku Onyenucheya

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