Editorial : Fuel smuggling on high seas must be halted   

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Illegal fuel trade along the coast in the Central Region and the Takoradi enclave is assuming alarming proportions, and as a result the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) is seeking legal backing to both seize and destroy vessels engaged in the illegal activity.

The Authority’s Director General, Thomas Kofi Alonsi, speaking to security chiefs at the Western Naval base decried the prevalence of illegal fuel trade along the coast and tasked the navy to be vigilant, apprehend all such vessels, and bring the culprits to book.

Disguised as fishing boats, these massive wooden vessels with storage capacity for tens of thousands of litres and propelled by twin-outboard motors go to the high seas, mostly at night, when criminal oil tanker ships dock and engage in the illegality.

The state loses large amounts of revenue and regulators lose levies as a result of these illegal activities of fuel smugglers. That is only the fiscal aspect of the illegal activity. What is even more dire is that large quantities of fuel, mostly diesel, spill on the beaches – causing pollution and other environmental hazards.

Coastal dwellers depend on the sea for their livelihoods, and if the coastal waters are polluted it will deprive whole communities of earning a living. Additionally, the illegally procured fuel – which is usually of low quality – ends up in the market, having escaped the regulatory scrutiny and quality assurance of the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), thus posing serious risks to vehicles.

So, the illegal fuel trade has many dimensions which need to be tackled with dispatch and ferocity.

Commodore Kwafo said the owners of these boats, if not stopped, may become emboldened and start using their boats to cart other illicit products such as weapons and drugs.  We cannot neglect security concerns, and that is why Kofi Alonsi’s recommendation to get legal backing to apprehend and destroy the canoes employed for the task might be the most effective method of stemming this illegal activity.

This calls for heightened vigilance by the navy and marine police to continuously patrol the high seas at night so as to keep pace with these fuel smugglers. They must ensure these criminals are brought to book and made to face the law.

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