* We were paid N40,000 to convey products to Cotonou-suspects

By Evelyn Usman
The Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS Beecroft has smashed a trans-boarder oil syndicate that specialized in loading petroleum products from vessels at the Lagos Fair-Way Buoy’s corridor, arresting seven suspects, all Beninnoise .
Five of the suspects identified as Freme Adion, Onore Akwaso, Isegbeji Deni, Kosi Pascal and Dao Sure , reportedly came from the Benin Republic, in three fibre boats with hundreds of 200-litres drums and 50 litres jerricans , at the early hours of Sunday, August 27 ,2023, while the rest two, John Abel and Buha Noel joined them from their Lagos residence.
Briefing journalists yesterday at the Base Parade ground, Apapa, Lagos, on how they were arrested , the Commander, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Kolawole Oguntuga, said the illegal activities of the suspected were detected through the Falcon Eye, a Maritime Awareness Facility, consequent upon which a patrol team from the NNS Beecroft was dispatched to intercept them.
According to him, “ The infrastructure observed a cluster of boats around a vessel and in our normal way of responding, boats were deployed and vectored to that scene. On arrival it was observed that there were boats ladened with hundreds of 200 litres drums and 50 litres jerry cans and the crew on board a Panama flagged vessel, Motor Tanker VIRGO 1 , were transferring Premium Motor Spirits from the vessel into the drums onboard the boats.
“Apart from the fact that their action was illegal, it could also trigger fire thereby endangering other ships within the vicinity and causing catastrophic incidents within our maritime environment”.
He noted that the Motor Tanker VIRGO 1 , with 23 crew members comprising Nigerians and Filipinos obtained documents to take 15,000 metric tons of PMS to a facility in Ogara, Delta state.
But he pointed out that “ the emphasis here is that the owners shouldn’t just stop at obtaining the necessary documents and think that they have finished their work. They must also put measures in place to ensure that their crew do not engage in illegal activities because this undermines economic prosperity of the nation which the Nigerian Navy as a force will vehemently disallow.
“In as much as the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ogala, does not want to inflict any unnecessary hardship on individuals going about their legitimate duties and abiding by the rules of the game, It is not just enough for owners of vessels like this to ensure they procure the necessary documents and approvals.

“Considering malicious motive of the crew to undermine the lawful operations of the vessel’s proprietor, the Nigerian Navy has chosen a course of action that avoids unnecessary burden on law-abiding business owners and has directed its efforts towards carrying out detailed investigation to unravel circumstances that led to the ugly incident, while defaulters will be severely sanctioned.
“Furthermore, it is important to note that vessel owners bear a degree of responsibility to ensure employees adhere to stipulated regulations in the conduct of their business within the maritime domain, for economic prosperity of the nation.

“They also need to take a step further to ensure that their crew abide by the rules and not involved in any form of illegality, because as we all know, to fight crimes especially economic sabotage ,is a whole of society approach”
Speaking with journalists, two of the suspects, Buga Noel and John Abel both Beninnoise residing in Lagos, said their boss ordered them to go tow one of the suspects boats that developed a fault, adding that they were arrested on reaching the spot.
On his part, Pascal said it took them four hours to get to the Fair-Way Buoy, from Cotonou.
He said, “ I came with 18 drums. But I filled only 13 with petroleum products which are sold in Cotonou . A man sent me from Cotonou to come and bring the products. I was paid N40,000, while my boat boy was paid N30,000.
We came into Lagos in the night. Even if we didn’t have light , we could navigate our way to where the vessel was “.
The suspects, according to Commodore Oguntuga, would be handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC for further investigation and prosecution to unravel their culpability.

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