27 August 2014, Lagos – The United States government has launched investigation into crude oil shipments from Saltpond platform, a small oil facility off the coast of Ghana, due to strong suspicion that some of Nigeria’s stolen oil may be exported through the facility.
The majority owner of the platform, Lushann International Energy Corporation, a private company based in Houston, has agreed that some of the oil it loads into tankers come from Nigeria but insisted that it purchases the crude legally from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which has the primary responsibility of cracking down on oil smuggling.
Though the investigators are yet to arrive at the particulars of evidence, a Saltpond official was said to have testified that the crude oil was got from the EFCC.
The platform, it was learnt, has been shipping large quantities of crude oil from unknown sources to Europe in recent months. The Wall Street Journal on Friday quoted United States officials as saying that Washington was probing Saltpond as part of the broader enquiry into how Nigeria’s crude oil is being stolen and exported by local and international syndicates. The investigation by the United States, it was learnt, stemmed from a recent revelation that the small oil facility is exporting large quantities of crude to Europe, raising questions by Nigerian and United States authorities about whether some of the oil were stolen from Nigeria.
Some United States and Nigerian officials are said to be suspecting that Saltpond is one of several destinations that crude oil thieves use to trans-ship stolen Nigerian crude, effectively laundering it by making it appear to come from a legitimate source outside Nigeria. Ghana’s government inaugurated the Saltpond platform in 1978 to pump oil from an offshore field.
It was gathered that initially, the field, located seven miles off the country’s coast, produced more than a million barrels a year but that later dwindled to just over 100,000 barrels in 2013, The Wall Street Journal quoted Ghana’s Finance Ministry, as saying. Port officials, ship-tracking services and port record, however, showed that since last August, three export tankers loaded more than 470,000 barrels from Saltpond, transporting it to an Italian refinery near the port of Genoa.
The operator of the Saltpond platform, which has denied any wrongdoing, and some Nigerian government officials have said that the facility had a legitimate contract with the Federal Government to trans-ship oil that law-enforcement agencies in Nigeria have confiscated from thieves. But officials of the Federal Government said the quantity of crude oil recovered from thieves is small, raising questions about the origins of the rest of the oil the platform has loaded into ships.
However, the Saltpond platform, meanwhile, has been a destination for at least one vessel connected to Nigerian oil theft, according to ship-tracking services. In recent years, executives and officials estimate that as much as 80per cent of Nigeria’s stolen oil is being shipped out of the country in small tankers. President Goodluck Jonathan had appealed to the international community to assist Nigeria in curbing oil theft, insisting that it is foreign refineries that buy this stolen crude as Nigeria does not have adequate refining capacity.
“Tankers often will come twice a week to load [stolen oil in Nigeria] and will go abroad,” agency report quoted a senior US official familiar with the issue saying. The US official was however, referring to international smuggling and not to Saltpond. “But it’s extremely difficult to investigate the final destination,” he added.
– This Day