The suspects were arrested by the Nigerian Navy and handed over to officials of civil defence.
The Nigerian Navy Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Ibaka, Mbo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, said it has arrested 35 suspected vandals of petroleum pipelines.
The Commanding Officer, FOB, Mohammed Abu, told reporters in Ibaka on Wednesday that the base also impounded 408 drums of illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) from the suspects.
Mr Abu, Navy Captain, spoke when he handed over the suspects and exhibits to an official of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
He said the Nigerian Navy Ship Thunder had on November 26, while on routine patrol, intercepted and arrested the suspects.
According to him, the base impounded three wooden boats used in conveying the AGO.
“I will be handing over the suspects and exhibits of wooden boats that were intercepted by the NNS Thunder on November 26, at high sea, having infracted the economic policy of the country.
“The Chief of the Naval Staff has given a clear directive to the Nigerian Navy to free the waterways of illegalities and other maritime crimes.
“So, having said this, we have three wooden boats which were conveying 408 drums of AGO and 40 drums of PMS mixed with oil, 906 empty drums and 35 male suspects are here before you.
“I am handing them over to you, as the prosecuting agency to carry out further investigation and prosecute them accordingly and revert to the Nigerian Navy on the outcome,” Mr Abu said.
The commanding officer said the arrest of the suspected vandals was a clear message that the Navy would not tolerate any act of economic sabotage in the Nigerian maritime environment.
“This arrest is to send a message to those vandals of our crude oil pipelines that the CNS has zero-tolerance for crude oil theft and our ships are out there looking for them and we will arrest them until they are out of our maritime domain,” he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the Head of Anti-Vandalism Unit of NSCDC, Akwa Ibom Command, Assistant Commandant of Corps, Adamu Jafa’aru, received the suspects and exhibits on behalf of the corps.
Mr Jafa’aru assured that the agency would carry out thorough investigation and all those found culpable would be arraigned.
He warned vandals to desist from sabotaging the nation’s economy, stressing that the NSCDC would not relent in protecting the country’s critical infrastructure.
He commended the Navy for their resilience and doggedness in ensuring safety across Nigeria’s maritime environment.