Smuggling Fuel by Sea

The sea is delivering a lucrative but illicit trade in Nigerian petrol to West Africa. Legally bought in Nigeria, the fuel is loaded onto boats which sail to Togo under the cover of night.

Smuggling fuel by sea in West Africa

Photos by Daniel Hayduk, Text by Jaimie Grant

The sea is delivering a lucrative but illicit trade in Nigerian petrol to West Africa. Legally bought in Nigeria, the fuel is loaded onto boats which sail to Togo under the cover of night.

Dozens of men, women and children plunge into the ocean and return with numerous containers which have been towed to shore by swimmers. Fuel is much cheaper in Nigeria compared to its neighbours as the government subsidises its price.

Daily deliveries provide an alternative supply to Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali. The fuel is sold at up to 30% less than at the licensed pumps.

To ensure their valuable stock stays secure, young men take turns living in a small room with the fuel that has been smuggled out of Nigeria.

A full barrel can be worth up to $300 (£190). Nigeria says the fuel subsidy costs the equivalent of more than $8bn a year, and attempted to cut it in January, but reversed its decision after a nationwide strike.

Duties from smuggled fuel avoid central government coffers but are paid in tributes to the town chiefs and regional officials controlling these border towns.

Despite daily risks of hijackings, arrests and attacks on the streets, illegal fuel continues to be smuggled, sold and consumed, providing an income to smugglers and a livelihood to those who use it.

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