Nigeria is to deploy drones to monitor the movement of ships in an attempt to curb oil theft.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) says it wants to end crude theft in under a year.
In a statement, the new head of NNPC Ibe Kachikwu said they planned to deploy drones to curb illegal oil bunkering, which will monitor the creeks of the Niger Delta and the movements of vessels in Nigeria’s territorial waters to compensate for the navy’s limited ability to patrol.
The government has estimated that illegal oil bunkering is costing 250,000 barrels per day of Nigeria’s daily oil production of just over two million barrels.
Kachikwu said that in the year to June 2015, the NNPC had recorded nearly 4,000 sabotage attacks and theft attempts on pipelines, but that the use of drones would help “end theft within the next eight months”.
President Muhammadu Buhari announced in July 2015 that over 100 tankers were believed to have breached regulations and had barred them from loading crude oil at Nigerian ports. Many more tankers are believed to have been stealing oil through illegal bunkering networks.
“UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) will help identify vessels engaged in suspect activity and lead to further exclusion orders. However, it is not clear when they will be deployed or of what type they will be,” Martin Roberts senior IHS Country Risk analyst said.
“The mere threat of their use is likely to act as a significant deterrent to shipping involved in major illegal oil bunkering networks,” he added.
US ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, assured Kachikwu three weeks ago that the US was ready to provide all assistance necessary to help the NNPC achieve its objectives, though did not specify whether this would extend to the use of drones.
While it sounds like a solution, the geographical nature of the creeks means it has its own unique challenges.
“Their impact (UAVs) on pipeline sabotage is likely to be limited, as UAVs will not be as effective in timely detection of hit-and-run attacks,” said Roberts.
Also, “Commercially available models (of UAVs) lack the range to effectively monitor offshore waters or surveillance of creeks,” he added.