The Nigerian Navy has confirmed the arrest of a Belgian ship, MT St Vanessa and her 15 member crew for alleged oil theft in Bayelsa.

The navy said the ship was arrested off the Brass/Akassa coast in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa.

Parading the crew members before journalists in Yenagoa, the Flag Officer, Central Naval Command, Rear Admiral Johnson Olutoyin, said the vessel had 15 crew members on board.

Rear Admiral Olutoyin said the crew comprising six Romanians and nine Philippines, was intercepted on Tuesday by men of NNS Zaria (a naval ship) stationed at Brass.

He said between June 5 and June 18, the command’s Regional Maritime Domain Awareness Centres (RMAC) at the coastline, spotted the vessel loitering aimlessly off the Akassa/Brass area, notorious for illegal bunkering and crude oil theft.

“The MT St Vanessa, was reported to have departed Lome Port in June 5  and arrived at Akassa area on June 6 without any authority from Nigerian Ports Authority,  NIMASA or the Nigerian Navy, to enable it operate on the Nigerian territorial waters.”

Olutoyin said that “for about 10 days, the vessel kept moving between a location of 100 nautical miles off Brass/Akassa to another location about 10 nautical miles off Brass/Akassa.

“The vessel moves towards Brass/Akassa in the night and moves back into the deep ocean in the hours of the day as indicated on the RMAC print out attached.

“Consequent upon these observations, the vessel was deemed as a vessel of interest and a naval ship, NNS Zaria, was dispatched to intercept and arrest her.

“On Tuesday, June 19, 2012, at about 1520, NNS ZARIA intercepted the vessel and interrogated her. As the vessel could not give any reason for her suspicious movement in our waters, the naval ship intimated her she was under arrest.”

According to the naval officer, the Belgian ship tried to escape arrest but the Nigerian naval ship caught up with it. “MT St Vanessa blatantly refused the arrest and instead decided to speed off. NNS ZARIA commenced a hot pursuit and after about three hours, was eventually able to effect the arrest of the vessel” Rear Admiral Olutoyin.

“The vessel was subsequently made to anchor off Brass from where she was escorted by NNS Thunder to Bonny anchorage for further investigation” he added.

Preliminary investigation by the naval authority confirmed that MT St Vanessa was directed by her owners to roam about the waters off Akassa without clear details of the specific task to perform therein, an indication the vessel was preparing to engage in illegal activities.

Rear Admiral Olutoyin noted that in line with the Federal Government directives for crude oil theft to be stamped out of the nation’s waters, the Nigerian Navy will continue to maintain zero tolerance to all such activities in the nation’s maritime domain.

He advised vessels without proper clearance and documentation for their operations or activities in the Nigerian territorial waters to stay away or risk being impounded and handed over to the appropriate agencies for prosecution.

He also urged foreigners not to be lured into crude oil theft business in their own interest and reassured those willing to engage in legitimate businesses of their security.

This is the first major breakthrough the Central Naval Command has recorded since its establishment in Bayelsa state early in the year.