KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 4, CMC – The Jamaica government Monday said that no illegal connections had been found on any of the 23 underwater oil pipelines owned by the state-owned Petrojam.
Recently appointed Energy Minister, Fayval Williams, told a news conference that she was in possession of a report done by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) that carried out the investigation.
Williams said the JDF Coast Guard, in a letter dated February 22, 2019, had indicated that there were “no illegal attachments identified on any of the 23 pipelines surveyed”.
She said Prime Minister Andrew Holness had requested that the JDF do a dive mission in the vicinity of the pipelines following concerns raised by an elderly man.
She told reporters that on January 7, this year, the unidentified man begged Holness, who was acting as energy minister at the time, to do a thorough investigation of the underwater pipeline as he believed that oil was being siphoned off.
The suspicions came on heels of an audit by the Auditor General Department which found that some 600,000 barrels of oil could not be account for over a five-year period at the state-owned oil refinery.
Acting Commander of the JDF Coast Guard, Lieutenant Commander Acion Prescott, said the operation took place over a five-day period “to assess the status of the pipeline”.
“The operation was conducted with approximately 14 divers and took place on a daily basis because the Kingston Harbour is not the most simple place to dive and we needed to ensure that we did a comprehensive job. So all the pipelines were surveyed visually and by hand when divers basically felt along the pipeline to detect any anomaly, any attachments that would have been there,” Prescott said.
Williams said that investigations are being carried out by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to clampdown on the illicit gas business.
Last weekend, the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch (C-TOC) arrested and charged a 76-year-old woman for breaches of the Petroleum Act.
The unidentified woman was reportedly caught with fourteen 45-gallon drums of petroleum, one gas pump and 12 empty drums.
Last month, the Jamaica parliament gave the Holness government the green light in compulsory retaking the 49 per cent shares in Petrojam that had been held by the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDV) Caribe.
PDV Caribe, an affiliate of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., and the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) entered into a joint venture agreement which resulted in the sale of PetroJam shares in August 2006 and February 2007 respectively.
The agreement had called for the upgrading and expansion of the refinery to improve its competitiveness and meet local and international market demands, but Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith said earlier this year that these objectives were not met and that this poses a risk to the economy.
Prime Minister Holness, who tabled the Compulsory Acquisition (Shares in Petrojam Limited) Act, 2019, said the decision to move in the current direction was not taken lightly.