Esther Ajibola – Lagos
The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has turned to French data firm Kpler to help it ferret out smugglers from the thousands of ships plying Nigerian waters.
The United Nations Security Council estimates that Nigeria lost $2.8 billion of revenue to oil theft in 2017, although Kpler says the minimum 100,000 barrels per day (bpd)— $3 billion to $8 billion a year — identified in a 2013 Chatham House report better approximates current losses.
The DPR began its collaboration with Kpler in December and unveiled it this month, among other tech-focused plans to detect what it calls “rogue” or “dark” ships. Kpler and the DPR declined to specify the value of their contract.
They could face an uphill battle to mollify investors in Nigeria’s oil sector.
“The frustration with the level of sabotage and environmental damage caused by the theft is high and a major factor pushing business interest to the offshore,” said a source working for an international firm in Nigeria.
From Kpler’s shared WeWork office space far away in London, the head of its partnership with Nigeria, Antoine Pillet, zooms in on a lonely vessel deep in the Delta’s river system using satellite data and the firm’s own software.
Sitting above the Forcados crude pipeline and away from a crowded main shipping channel, the ship is surrounded by swamps stained black by spills and forests hollowed out in places by wildcat construction — tell-tale signs of theft and refining.
“In some ways, we’re the CCTV of what’s going on in Nigerian waters. We provide the data, but don’t really give opinions on what may be going on,” he said.
Kpler’s platform monitors 24/7, logging erratic journeys and changes to ships’ drafts which indicate off-loading of cargoes into an algorithm it is training the DPR to interpret.
DPR’s Head of Public Affairs, Paul Osu, said: “This technology is a way of improving the way we do things. Of course there are problems here and there, but we don’t have inherent problems.
“Technology is the way to boost transparency of operations and improve investor confidence.”