LAGOS - A Nigerian court has sentenced 13 Filipinos to five years each or a fine of one million naira (6,800 dollars) for stealing 12,500 metric tonnes of crude from the Niger delta, a report said Saturday.
This Day newspaper said justice Chukwura Nnamani of the federal high court in the southern city of Benin handed down the sentences on Friday after the Filipinos pleaded guilty to the offence.
The suspects were among 22 Filipinos arrested by a joint army-navy patrol on the Warri River on November 14, 2008 with the vessel MT Akuada laden with its cargo of 12,500 metric tonnes of crude.
The crude oil was suspected to have been stolen from the Niger Delta, the heart of Nigeria's oil industry.
The paper gave no details on the remaining nine defendants. Neither the Nigeria's anti-graft agency EFCC nor the Philippines embassy could be immediately reached for comment Saturday.
The theft of Niger Delta crude costs Nigeria millions of dollars in lost revenue every year, with smugglers selling an estimated 100,000 barrels a day to foreign refineries.
In July, the navy arrested 14 Filipinos when another ship, the MT Lina Panama, was intercepted with stolen crude.
The Nigerian navy recently launched a new offensive against the theft of oil, widely referred to locally as "bunkering," as millions of litres of crude or refined petroleum products are stolen annually.
Oil accounts for more than 95 percent of Nigeria's foreign exchange earnings.
Nigeria is among Africa's largest oil producers, exporting some two million barrels of crude per day, but the industry is prey to organised gangs of heavily-armed criminals who tap pipelines and siphon off tonnes of crude.