High-seas illegal fuel trade rising

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  • Maritime Authority seeks power to seize, destroy these boats

  • State losing revenue as environment gets polluted

With trading of illegal fuel on Ghana’s high seas increasing at an alarming rate, the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) has said it will soon acquire the power to seize and destroy the boats being used for this illegal business.

The Authority’s Director-General, Thomas Kofi Alonsi, said the legal department has been instructed to go to court and obtain the necessary orders that will allow the regulator to lawfully seize and destroy these boats.

Speaking to security chiefs at the Western Naval base, who told him that the illegal fuel trade along the coast in the Central Region and Takoradi enclave had assumed alarming proportions and become a menace in the area, he stressed that the activities of these illegal boats – locally called Dendeys – will be dealt with.

Disguised as fishing boats, these massive wooden vessels have the storage capacity for tens of thousands of litres and are propelled by twin-outboard motors – going to the high seas mostly at night, when criminal oil tanker ships dock. Tonnes of fuel are pumped from the tankers into the Dendeys (wooden boats), which sail to different beaches and discharge their content into waiting road fuel tankers on the blindside of tax and other regulatory authorities.

When asked why the boats would not be used for another purpose to prevent them from being destroyed, the GMA said the boats are fashioned for the sole purpose of this illegal activity and therefore could not be put to any other use – resulting in the decision to destroy them when seized.

State losing revenues, environment polluted

The state loses large amounts of revenue and regulators lose levies as a result of the fuel smugglers illegal activities. But that may not be the only headache of regulators, as large quantities of fuel – mostly diesel – spill on the beaches, causing pollution and other environmental hazards. The illegally procured fuel, which is usually of low quality, ends up on the market – having escaped the regulatory scrutiny and quality assurance of the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), posing serious risks to vehicles.

The annual report of the Chamber of Bulk Oil Distributors (CBOD) on activities in the downstream petroleum subsector showed that the country in 2018 saved nearly GH¢1billion that would have otherwise been lost through smuggling of the products.

The report showed that GH¢952million was saved by blocking the sale of illicit sale of petroleum products in the country in 2018. This was a reversal from the losses made in the last three years – 2015 to 2017 – through unaccounted stock and evasion of taxes.

These boats must be stopped immediately

At the meeting with the Ghana Maritime Authority, the Head of Marine Police, DCOP Iddi Seidu, and the Western Naval Command’s Commodore E.A. Kwafo, the Acting Flag Officer Commanding at the Western Naval Command, painted a painfully bleak picture of risks posed by the Dendeys. “We are rearing a monster that will one day consume all of us,” he said tersely.

Commodore Kwafo said the owners of these boats, if not stopped, may become emboldened and even start using their boats to cart other illicit products, such as weapons and drugs. He praised the GMA for instituting the night patrols which have led to the arrest and seizure of some ships and Dendeys engaged in illegal bunkering.

The Director General of GMA, Thomas Alonsi, who was accompanied by his two deputies, Daniel Appianin and Yaw Antwi Akosa, as well as the head of Legal and Board Secretary, Patience Ella Diaba, commended the Naval Command and Marine Police for detailing armed men to provide security for the night patrols.

He said it is fiercely urgent for the illegal fuel dealers to be reined-in and put on a leash.

“The building of these boats is itself in violation of the GMA’s regulations; because by law they are required to obtain a permit from us to build such vessels. My officers here, however, tell me no one has ever applied for any such permit,” he said, adding that beyond this the boats are supposed to be registered and licenced to go to sea, but none of the Dendeys are registered or licenced or even marked. “This is not right,” he said.

The head of the Ghana Maritime Authority at Takoradi, Captain William E. Thompson, explained that destroying the boats would achieve a number of things – make it unprofitable to engage in fuel smuggling, protect fuel consumers from substandard products, and generate revenue for the state.

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