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Bunkering: Navy detains suspected smugglers’ vessel

The Nigerian Navy said it detained and handed over a suspected smugglers’ vessel to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), for switching off its transponder.

Capt. Suleiman Mohammed, First Lieutenant, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, told newsmen during the handover of the vessel, MV Dandellan Grace to NIMASA on Saturday.

He alleged that crew members of the vessel switched off the vessel’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder with intent to remain hidden from detection by security agencies.

“MV Dandallan Grace was granted approval to load diesel from Tonimas Storage and discharge its content at Julius Berger Yard in Port Harcourt.

“However, after lifting the diesel, it was discovered that the vessel switched off her AIS transponder from Sept. 29, 2020, to the morning of Sept. 30, 2020.

“This behaviour aroused suspicion that the vessel might have proceeded in stealth mode to enable it to engage in illicit activities,’’ Mohammed said.

He explained that the suspicion that the vessel might have indulged in illegal bunkering was further confirmed when Julius Berger rejected the petroleum product supplied to it.

“Julius Berger rejected the diesel because it did not meet the specification of the Department of Petroleum Resource (DPR).

“Consequently, the vessel was detained by the NNS Pathfinder for further investigation.

“However, a confirmatory laboratory test conducted by the DPR during the investigation revealed that the petroleum product was within the specified range for diesel.’’

He said that although the test result came negative that MV Dandallan Grace was still found culpable for AIS infractions.

He explained that the sailors’ action violated the Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS) Regulations mandating vessels to always operate with their AIS transponder switched on.

According to him, the crew members’ action endangered the navigational safety of other ships, vessels and commuters at sea.

“So, we are here to hand over MV Dandallan Grace to NIMASA for further necessary action in line with the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures.

“The general public is assured that the Nigerian Navy has several maritime domain awareness facilities capable of monitoring and detecting erring vessels within Nigeria’s waters and beyond.

“To this end, there is no hiding place for seafarers that habitually violate maritime laws,’’ Mohammed warned.

Mr Joseph Baregha, an Assistant Chief Cabotage Officer of NIMASA, received the barge on behalf of the anti-graft agency.

Baregha assured that the agency would conduct a speedy investigation to determine why the vessel’s AIS transponder was switched off.

He added that the agency would prosecute anyone found culpable of the crime.

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