Nigeria is holding a Russian ship and its 22 crew members for carrying 11,300 metric tons of crude oil suspected to have been stolen from the southeastern oil-rich Niger Delta region, the navy said on Wednesday.
The MT African Pride, was seized on Nigerian coastal waters on 8 October. It was found carrying the biggest consignment of crude oil out of 14 ships seized since January, Rear Admiral Antonio Ibinabo Bob-Manuel, commander of Nigeria’s western naval command, told reporters.
The crew of 18 Russians, two Romanians and two Georgians were taken into custody while investigations continue, Bob-Manuel said.
The crew, he added, would be charged in court soon in accordance with Nigerian law.
Nigerian officials estimate that 10-15 percent of the two million barrels of crude oil that the country produces daily, is stolen by sophisticated criminal gangs that illegally tap the oil from pipelines and load it onto vessels for sale abroad.
Security agencies also blame the illegal trade for the supply of weapons used by ethnic militants in the oil region where violence has killed more than 200 people this year and severely disrupted oil operations.
To try and improve the situation, Nigeria this year deployed three war ships donated by the United States to check unrest and crude oil theft in the Niger Delta, navy officials said.
The former US Coast Guard ships were refurbished and sent to Nigeria by the US Defence Department at the cost of US $3.5 million each. The ships came without arms and ammunition, but were fitted with canons and machine guns by the Nigerian authorities before deployment.
Four additional refurbished US ships are scheduled for delivery to the Nigerian navy before the end of the year.