Nigerian court jails seven for oil theft

YENAGOA, Nigeria, Nov 24 (Reuters) - A Nigerian court has sentenced six foreigners and one Nigerian to seven years in prison for oil theft, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said on Tuesday, three years after the navy arrested 10 suspects with a vessel carrying crude oil off the Niger Delta.

The suspects - a Nigerian, two Pakistanis, three Ghanaians, one Indonesian, one Beninois and two Ukrainians - had siphoned about two thousand metric tonnes of crude oil from a loading facility belonging to Shell Petroleum, the navy said in 2017.

The court on Monday sentenced seven of the 10 suspects to seven years imprisonment, EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwujaren said in a statement.

Uwujaren said the suspects were convicted on four counts of conspiracy, dealing in petroleum products without a licence and tampering with oil pipelines alongside Asztral Shipping Corporation SA, and a vessel MT. TECNE(a.k.a MT STAR).

He added that the ship did not have clearance from Nigerian authorities to navigate in Nigerian waters and the foreign crew did not have valid documents to enter the country.

Nigeria is the world’s eighth biggest exporter of crude oil, but a sizeable proportion of its output is stolen by thieves who either drill into pipelines or hijack barges loaded with oil, theft that is known locally as “bunkering”.

Bunkering and attacks on oil pipelines in the Niger Delta cut Nigeria’s output, which also affects world oil prices.

Oil accounts bring in 90% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and the bulk of government revenue. Nigeria slipped into recession in the third quarter, blaming the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and low oil prices, amidst double-digit inflation. ($1 = 380.7000 naira) (Reporting by Tife Owolabi, Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha and Ed Osmond)