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The high cost paid by Nigeria's oil thieves

The illegal practice of 'oil bunkering' diverts a fifth of Nigeria's oil output to makeshift refineries, where workers labour ankle deep in crude, surrounded by dead mangroves and blackened rivers. For most, it's the only job they can find.

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Ebiowei, 48, carries an empty oil container on his head to be filled with refined fuel at an illegal refinery site near the Nun River in Nigeria’s oil state of Bayelsa, Nov. 27, 2012.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A man collects polluted water at an illegal oil refinery site near the Nun River. Thousands of people in Nigeria engage in a practice known locally as oil 'bunkering' – hacking into pipelines to steal crude then refining it or selling it abroad.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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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 Nov. 27, 2012.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Plates used by labourers lie on the ground at an illegal oil refinery site near the Nun River in Bayelsa.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Ebiowei carries refined oil in buckets at an illegal oil refinery site. ‘Oil bunkering,’ which leaves oil spewing from pipelines for kilometres around each site, diverted about a fifth of Nigeria’s two-million barrels-per-day production last year, according to the finance ministry.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Godswill collects crude oil from a mini storage unit filled with oil waiting to be refined. Locals in the industry say workers can earn $50 to $60 (U.S.) a day.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A passenger speedboat churns up the water while in the background an illegal oil refinery is left burning after a military chase in a windy creek near the Nun River Dec. 6, 2012. Last year, nearly 2,000 suspects were arrested and 4,000 refineries, 30,000 drums of products and hundreds of bunkering boats destroyed under orders from President Goodluck Jonathan.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A warning sign belonging to Royal Dutch Shell is seen along the Nembe creek in Nigeria’s oil state of Bayelsa Dec. 2, 2012.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A young woman named Akpomene is pictured coated in oil stains as she sits in a canoe near the Nun River Nov. 27, 2012. Akpomene fishes in the creek and sells the fish to help her family. The oil leaves sticky rashes on her body that washing can't remove.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A crude oil refinery worker stands in front of a locally made burner in an illegal oil refinery site. The worker said that he had been doing the job for two years and earned the equivalent of around $60 a day.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Refinery workers are reflected in polluted stagnant water at an illegal oil refinery site. Thieves often tap unguarded pipelines in broad daylight, hacking into them and connecting a hose to pump the oil onto a barge.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A worker pours crude oil into a locally made burner using a funnel at an illegal oil refinery.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Most of the stolen crude is shipped offshore, with the remaining 10 per cent refined locally.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A man working at an illegal oil refinery site pours oil under a locally made burner to keep the fire going.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A locally made boat containing crude oil is manned through a creek near the Nun River. Decades of oil production have poisoned the waters of the delta, driving fishermen deeper into poverty and leaving some with few options for making a living.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A man and his son walk through polluted farmland in the Kalaba community in Nigeria’s oil state of Bayelsa Nov. 26, 2012.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A man pours water on a fire in a locally made burner. Most of the workers at illegal refineries say they have no choice; decades of oil production in Nigeria have not produced many jobs.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Ebiowei drags a hose used to help siphon crude oil.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Men guide a locally made boat carrying drums filled with refined stolen oil through a creek near the river Dec. 6, 2012. The men obtained the oil from refiners at an illegal site.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A fuel station in the Ahoada community near Nigeria’s oil hub city, Port Harcourt, is closed Dec. 6, 2012. Nigeria’s legal refineries have been left largely defunct by decades of mismanagement and corruption, so fuel stations in the world’s 12th largest oil producing country often run out of supplies.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/Reuters

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Canoes lie in oil-slicked mud on the shore of the Bodo creek in Ogoniland near Port Harcourt Dec. 4, 2012.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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