INVESTIGATORS are currently probing some chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party fingered as being the mastermind of 6.5 million barrels crude oil theft, The PUNCH investigation has shown.
Also, two officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and two marketers alleged to be part of the thieving ring are to questioned by investigators.
Already, six new suspects, including four additional Filipinos and two Russians had been arrested for the theft. Six crew members of the French ship, MT Vannessa, used for the theft were arrested on June 21 when the vessel was impounded with the stolen oil.
The arrested suspects were said to have mentioned the names of the NNPC officials and four other ships involved in the theft ring. Two of the vessels were said to be owned by two chieftains of the PDP.
Saturday PUNCH had exclusively reported on June 23 that the French ship was impounded on June 21 for allegedly stealing 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from June 9 till the day it was impounded.
President Goodluck Jonathan, our correspondents learnt, had asked for the report of the investigation into the theft and had vowed to deal decisively with anybody found culpable as a deterrent to other criminals in the oil sector.
The Saturday PUNCH report had also indicated that that the suspects in their statements indicted some political office holders, fuel marketers, some officials of the NNPC and the Department of Petroleum Resources.
The Director of Naval Information, Commodore Kabiru Aliyu, had on Friday confirmed the ship was impounded was being anchored at the Port Harcourt anchorage.
On Wednesday, a member of the naval special squad which impounded a ship confirmed that the Presidency had demanded for a report on the matter.
The source said, “The President is interested in the matter because of the increasing theft of crude oil.
“Anytime from now, there will be a meeting involving the Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, and top security officials. This matter cannot be swept under the carpet.
“Six more suspects have been arrested and two NNPC and two oil marketers have been declared wanted now.
“We are making progress in our investigation. The suspects had named four other ships that were involved in the illegal bunkering. In fact they said two of the ships are owned by two top politicians in the country.”
Our correspondents gathered that security agents, including naval officers and officials of the National Maritime and Administration and Safety Agency and a private security firm, Global West Vessel Specialist, had taken over the ship as part of the investigation.
Our correspondent however learnt that before the arrival of security agents on Wednesday, an oil cartel, comprising oil marketers and NNPC officials, had made desperate efforts to erase past records of the ship as part of moves to thwart investigations.
It was also gathered that the cartel made efforts to get the statements of two of the arrested crew members.
Other items that the cartel was looking for included the ship log book, noon report, oil record book, last port of call, and tank sample paper, which would indicate the last volume of oil loaded by the ship.
The naval officer, who confided in our correspondents, said, “Investigations would have been hampered if they were able to get those items,” adding that the members of the cartel went into hiding on learning that security agents were on their way to the Port Harcourt anchorage.”
The Federal Government had on several occasions expressed concern about the theft of crude oil.
Alison-Madueke, at a round table on crude oil production and the state of the oil industry in Nigeria on May 18 in Lagos, had said that the country was losing $7bn yearly to crude oil theft.
“The country is losing approximately 180,000 barrels of oil equivalent daily at this time. Of course, to the nation, if you look at the international cost of a barrel, it will be estimated at $7bn yearly,” the minister had said.
When contacted, Aliyu told one of our correspondents that the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Ola Ibrahim, would brief the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) today on the impounded ship.
“The Chief of Naval staff will appear before the committee tomorrow (today). It is better you wait and hear from the horse’s mouth,” he said.
The committee had on Tuesday asked the Nigerian Navy to hand over the ship to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The committee said that this would prevent a situation where Nigerians would be told that the ship had disappeared.
Curiously, Aliyu, late on Wednesday said the impounded vessel had no oil in it.
He said, “The Captain of the ship is Doliteanu Danut Laurentiu. It departed from Lome Port and arrived Akassa on the June 5 and 6.”
“MT Vanessa sailed seaward to resist arrest by NNS Zaria. Thereafter, NNS Zaria commenced surveillance towards the bridge of MT Vanessa. Then NNS Thunder was sailed in to reinforce the arrest of MT Vanessa.
“The vessel later complied and was escorted by NNS Zaria to Bonny. NNS Zaria handed it over to the Nigerian Navy Forward operating Base in Bonny.”
He, however, claimed that no crude oil was discovered in the ship. “The various storage tanks of the vessel were sounded to confirm products on board, However, no petroleum product was found on Vannesaa.