The powerful cartel behind the bunkerers arrested by security operatives of the Nigerian Navy and the NIMASA have begun moved aimed at undermining investigations into the illegal business that has been costing Nigerian more than N20 billion every week.
The Post understands that the cartel moved swiftly on hearing the news of the arrest of the French vessel, initiating moves to discharge the crude oil on board the ship in order to destroy evidence of its illegal activity.
It was gathered that agents of the cartel, including top officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Ministry of Petroleum, top Federal Government and security officials equally moved to effect the arrest of the crew of the vessel now being held at the Port Harcourt Anchorage and are pressing buttons to ensure the case file is destroyed or transferred to security formations where they have influence.
The Post understands that agents of the cartel attempted to discharge the fuel into another vessel of similar capacity over the weekend.
Sources close to the initial investigations said they had received an order directing them to move the case file to Abuja while a conflicting order had asked them to move the suspects to Lagos.
“As far as we are concerned, these orders are calculated to confuse us and pervert justice, because with us out of the picture, they can do anything they want with the ship and also tamper with evidence,” he said on condition that he should not be named.
Members of the cartel were in Port Harcourt over the weekend trying to take over the ship in question with some military personnel and were said to have driven away officials of Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on guard over the detained vessel.
Should this approach fail, the cartel is believed to have earmarked huge sums to persuade some of the investigators to soft-pedal.
The Post understands that some of the investigators have been reached to tamper with the contents of the case files and to help in tailoring their reports to suit the desire of the oil thieves.
A French vessel that sails under the name, M.T. ST Vanessa and believed to be responsible for the theft of about 1.5 million barrels of crude oil weekly was recently arrested following surveillance by both the Nigerian Navy and operatives of NIMASA.
The ship has been moved to Bonny Anchorage in Port Harcourt. The ship’s crew, we gathered, included two Nigerians, a French national, who is the Captain of the ship, one Briton and two Togolese nationals.
Details of their operations, based on confessions of the arrested crew members and confirmation by security officials who have been monitoring its movement showed that the ship, with a capacity of 15, 000 tons (about 300,000 barrels) of crude enters into the Nigeria’s territory to load a full capacity cargo twice in a day.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that members of the cartel became jittery following interest expressed in the case by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
OPEC is reported to have contacted the Federal Government Federal Government over demanding action against those involved, as it was capable of negatively affecting the international price of crude oil.
Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, Commodore Kabbir Aliyu, confirmed the arrest of the ship but declined to comment on the cartels attempt to subvert justice.
“I can confirm the arrest of the ship. The Nigerian Navy are in custody of the ship and investigations are on going in its matter,” he said.