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Oil thieves tap into Nigeria's black gold

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A passenger speedboat churns up the water, while in the background an illegal oil refinery is left burning after an earlier military chase, in a windy creek near the Nun River in Bayelsa on Dec. 6, 2012.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A man works at an illegal oil refinery site near the Nun River in Bayelsa on Nov. 27, 2012.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A locally made boat containing crude oil is maneuvered through a creek near the Nun River in Bayelsa on Dec. 6, 2012.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A worker pours crude oil into a locally made burner using a funnel at an illegal oil refinery site near the Nun River in Bayelsa on Nov. 25, 2012.

By Akintunde Akinleye, Reuters

Here and there on the banks, people coated in oil wade through greasy mud in patches of landscape blackened and stripped of the thick vegetation that makes Nigeria's oil-producing delta so hard to police. Plumes of grey or yellow smoke fill the air as men who will give only their first names go to work in an illegal industry that the government says lifts a fifth of Nigeria's output of two million barrels a day.

Oil 'bunkering' -- hacking into pipelines to steal crude then refining it or selling it abroad -- has become a major cost to Nigeria's treasury, which depends on oil for 80 percent of its earnings.

Major General Johnson Ochoga, who leads a military campaign against bunkering that was stepped up last year under orders from President Goodluck Jonathan, told Reuters nearly 2,000 suspects had been arrested and 4,000 refineries, 30,000 drums of products and hundreds of bunkering boats destroyed in 2012.

Yet the complicity of security officials and politicians who profit from the practice, and the lack of alternatives for those who undertake it, cast doubt on the likelihood of success.

Read the full story.

Editor's note: Reuters made these pictures available to NBC News on Jan. 15.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A warning sign belonging to the company Royal Dutch Shell is seen along the Nembe Creek in Bayelsa on Dec. 2, 2012.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A man named Godswill works at an illegal oil refinery site, where steam rises from pipes carrying refined oil from a burner into broken containers, near the Nun River in Bayelsa on Nov. 27, 2012.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A man named Godswill collects crude oil from a mini storage unit filled with oil, which is waiting to be refined at an illegal refinery site near the Nun River in Bayelsa on Nov. 27, 2012.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

Ebiowei, 48, pours water to reduce the intensity of the fire in a locally-made burner at an illegal oil refinery site near the Nun River on Nov. 27, 2012.

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

A closed fuel station is seen in the Ahoada community near Nigeria's oil hub city of Port Harcourt on Dec. 6, 2012.

 

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