At least 10 suspected oil pipeline thieves died trying to escape arrest in Nigeria’s southern delta, police said on Monday.
Security forces shot some of the thieves, who had tapped into a pipeline to siphon off oil, while others drowned after jumping into the nearby River Ethiope on Saturday, police said.
“Some of the 10 dead vandals were hit by bullets, while others jumped into the river and drowned,” Delta State Police Commissioner Udom Ekpoudom said, adding that the thieves had opened fire upon sighting the police.
“The vandals were many, so my men are still searching the area for more bodies.”
Nigerian security forces clash frequently with local gangs who make money from siphoning crude oil and fuel from a network of pipelines criss-crossing the vast wetlands region.
Dozens of suspected oil thieves have died in gun battles with security forces this year, and many more have been killed in fires sparked by the resulting spills.
Small gangs often sell stolen fuel by the roadside in Nigeria, but there are also much larger-scale criminal organizations stealing huge volumes of crude oil for sale to refineries abroad.
Authorities say that about 5 percent of Nigeria’s 2.4 million barrel-per-day output is stolen, often with the collusion of senior figures in the government and armed forces, working with international crime syndicates.
Fifteen Eastern Europeans were sentenced to six months in prison earlier this month for stealing crude oil, Nigeria’s first such conviction.