YENAGOA, Nigeria | Fri Jun 29, 2012 3:56pm EDT
(Reuters) – Nigerian authorities said on Friday they had arrested the leader of a network of crude oil thieves in the Niger Delta responsible for several pipeline bombings against oil majors including Shell and ENI.
Nigeria is the world’s eighth biggest exporter of crude oil but thieves siphon off around a fifth of its output by drilling into pipelines, blasting them open or diverting crude at loading stations, sometimes with the connivance of security forces.
The operations, called bunkering, cost Nigeria’s government nearly a fifth of its revenue each year, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said. It is also a major cause of oil spills that often wreck the delta’s wetlands environment.
The Nigerian military paraded Seiyifa Gbereke, or General Cairo as he was nicknamed, in front of the media, where he confessed to the crimes. There was no independent confirmation of his story told in captivity.
“He led a gang of eight to destroy Agip pipelines and Shell ones around various communities,” in the Niger Delta, security forces spokesman for Yenagoa state Lieutenant Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu told journalists.
The delta is a region of swamps and labyrinthine creeks at the heart of Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry that has for decades been plagued by insecurity.
An amnesty in 2009 sharply reduced militancy but criminal gangs tapping oil pipelines is a growing problem.
Royal Dutch Shell estimates that bunkering siphons at least 150,000 barrels of oil per day from Nigeria’s production.