The Nigerian Navy has said it arrested in Rivers state five suspected oil thieves, who specialise in vandalising oil pipelines and stealing petroleum products.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Capt. Adegoke Ebo, Executive Officer, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, Port Harcourt,told newsmen on Thursday, while handing over the suspects to officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the suspects were arrested while transporting large quantities of diesel suspected to be adulterated.

Ebo said that the product was found hidden in a large wooden boat at Dutch Island creeks, Okirika area of Rivers.

He said, “The five suspects were intercepted and arrested on suspicious activities by NNS Pathfinder troops onboard naval patrol gunboats on June 12.

“Troops, after intercepting the wooden boat found unspecified large quantity of petroleum product suspected to be illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (diesel).

“The five men specialise in illegal bunkering of petroleum products and other illicit activities at Dutch Island creek.

The executive officer of NNS Pathfinder said that the large wooden boat had been on a close watch by troops for suspicious activities over time before the seizure.

He further said that the suspects were subsequently detained after the discovery, and that they had been in custody answering questions from naval interrogators.

“We have concluded our preliminary investigation, and as such, the naval headquarters directed that we hand over the suspects, the wooden boat, and the diesel to EFCC.

“EFCC will carry out further investigation into the matter and possibly prosecute the suspects”.

The naval officer said that the navy would continue to carry out 24-hour patrol of the waterways and creeks, while maintaining presence at flash points.

According to him, the zero-tolerance policy was in-line with Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Adm. Ibok-Ete Ibas determination to rid the nation’s maritime environment of illicit activities.

Receiving the suspects and petroleum product, Macaulay Olayinka said the navy in collaboration with the anti-graft agency was winning the fight against oil thieves and vandals.

Olayinka, a Senior Detective Superintendent, said the EFCC had secured several convictions of many other suspects handed over to them by the navy.

“We also have a lot of ongoing cases that we are optimistic of securing conviction, while most of the vessels also handed over to us by the navy have been forfeited.

“So, the trend of illegal bunkering is reducing, meaning that we are winning the war,” he said.

Olayinka said that identities of suspects convicted by the anti-graft agency had been published on the EFCC’s website.

He said the five suspects would be investigated and arraigned in court, if found culpable.