Rivers - The Joint Task Force (JTF) operating in the Niger Delta on Thursday released a vessel suspected to be involved in illegal oil bunkering in compliance with a Federal High Court ruling on its detention.
The Media Officer Personnel of the force, Flt. Lt. Chris Erondu, announced the release of the vessel in Bonny Island, Rivers.
A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on Nov. 19, 2012, had ruled in favour of High Tide Marine Limited, owners of the vessel, over allegation of complicity in illegal oil bunkering activities.
Erondu said that the vessel, with the registered name, AV Pecos Peters, was arrested on Oct. 17, 2012 on suspicion of transporting petroleum products without permit.
“This vessel by name; AV Pecos Peters was arrested along Bonny waters by personnel of the Joint Task Force operation Pulo Shield from 146 Battalion Nigerian Army on suspicion of involvement in illegal oil bunkering.
“Consequently, the vessel and its owner was arraigned before a court of law and after thorough investigation; the owner of the vessel was not found wanting (guilty).
“It is against this backdrop that the Defence Headquarters approved the release of this vessel to the owner.
“I also want to use this opportunity to reiterate JTF commitment to the fight of illegal oil bunkering, piracy and other related crimes.”
Erondu called on the public to report anyone found to be involved in oil theft and illegal refining of crude oil to security agencies in the state.
In his response, the defence lawyer, Mr. Richard Oyiwona, who spoke on behalf of the owner of the vessel, described the court ruling as victory for the Rule of Law.
He said that the JTF prosecuting team was unable to present a clear evidence to show that the vessel was involved in oil theft.
“What we are witnessing was in compliance with the judgement of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, which found the two crew men charged in the (oil theft) allegation, not wanting (guilty).
“They (JTF) were unable to prove the alleged offense in which the two crew men were charged for and transferred to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
“Based on the fact that there were no evidence before the court; the court had to dismiss the charge and it is a victory for the rule of law and for the two crew men.
“Also, the impression that the Joint Military Task Force has constituted itself to be above the law of the land is not correct; we got judgement and we are here to obey the judgement of the Federal High Court.”