Rear Admiral Aminu Hassan, the Force Commander, Joint Task Force (JTF), South-South, Operation Delta Safe, has said that the fight against oil theft would continue until the criminals surrendered.
Hassan said this while giving situation report of its operation to curb oil theft and illegal refining activities in the region.
The report was given during an assessment tour organised by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd. (NNPC) on some illegal crude oil refining sites in Rivers.
On the tour were the Group Managing Director, NNPC, Malam Mele Kyari, and the Chief of Defence Staff, Maj.-Gen. Lucky Irabor, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, and Mr Gbenga Komolafe, the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), among others.
Hassan said the fight against oil theft was a difficult one because of the terrain but that his men were out to end illegal refining and oil theft in the country.
He described the work of the JTF as a multi-agency operations covering 10 states with collaboration of 12 security agencies.
Hassan said there were a lot of illegal refining camps in the country but that clearance operations had started to ensure they were not resituated after been destroyed.
“The way we are working is the same way the criminals involved in the illegal refining are working but we are ahead of them.
“Presently we are into mechanical clearance, dismantling of storage tanks and removal of tapping points.
“A lot of the illegal refineries are down, we will continue to disconnect them; they have network of pipelines which transit through the bushes with connected typical reservoirs which in some cases continue to spill and waste.
“The reservoirs have been destroyed, if you do not destroy the tanks completely, they will reconstruct and continue,” he said.
According to Hassan, Trans Niger Pipeline and Aferomu in Delta have been identified as the critical areas and efforts are currently ongoing to clear them of oil thieves.
“In Bayelsa, the critical areas are Okarki area, Igbabele and Ibinebiri communities; the good news is that Okarki area has been deactivated.
“In Rivers, within the zone five, we have the Ibaa community which is critical after Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) pointed it out as priority area to start with.
“There are also Gogokiri in Rivers but its illegal site has been neutralised,” he added.
He regretted that the taskforce lost a young officer in charge of three battalion in Warri, Delta who was shot during one of their operations.
”In some of the creeks and swampy areas, if you start the journey in the morning, you will get to the area in the evening; this is how difficult the terrain can be.
“When the illegal refiners are chased out from a particular area, they will relocate to another area,” he said.
He called on community members to join hands with government and stakeholders in fighting oil thieves, adding that crude oil theft was on the rise because of the patronage they got from people.
Hassan underscored the need for government to device tougher measures in tackling illegal refiners.
He further said that the taskforce was talking with stakeholders on how the criminals would be monitored with modern technology.