John Ameh and Leke Baiyewu, Abuja
The Nigerian Navy has come under criticism for allegedly vandalising two ocean-going vessels, MT Folmag and MT Beskid.
The owners, Lifeline Maritime Nigeria Limited, and Braza Oil Nigeria Limited, are demanding a compensation of $29.2m from the Navy.
In a petition, which they sent to the House of Representatives, they also demanded another N8.7m, being the cost of the 50 metric tonnes of diesel said to have been drained from MT Beskid.
The House had referred the petition to its Committee on Public Petitions for hearing.
But, at the committee’s session on Tuesday, the Navy failed to appear to respond to the petition.
However, the counsel for the owners of the vessel, Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said he had confidence in the National Assembly to ensure that justice was done in the case.
Recounting the incident, Ozekhome stated that MT Folmag was conveying 2,500 metric tonnes of diesel when it was arrested by the navy operatives in the Brass area of Bayelsa State on the excuse that it was involved in piracy.
He added, “But, evidence showed that it was the vessel that was a victim of piracy, not that it was involved in piracy. The crew and the ship were attacked by pirates. The police investigated the incident and recommended that Navy should release the ship.”
He added that the owners went to the Navy only to discover that the vessel had been vandalised.
Ozekhome said the Navy called meetings and agreed to settle the matter after the owners accepted to withdraw a suit they filed in court.
“Regrettably, till date, there has been no further actions taken by the Navy,” he said.
As for MT Beskid, Ozekhome stated that it was also arrested on allegation of oil bunkering, which turned out to be false.
“An order of the court was secured to release the vessel. Again, like it happened with the first ship, it was vandalised and was no longer sea-worthy.
Ozekhome recalled how the Navy sought an out-of-court settlement in January this year, only to renege on the promises.
“That is why we turned to the House of the Nigerian people to look into this issue again.
“The owners are asking for $29.2m for replacement of the ships and N8.7m for the AGO taken from MT Beskid,” he added.
Also, the Senate has launched a probe into the alleged pilfering of vessels belonging to Lifeline Maritime Nigeria Limited and Braza Oil Nigeria Limited.
The company is asking the Minister of Defence, who has supervisory authority over the Nigerian Navy, to pay $29,283,500 (N1.2bn) and N8,730,000, respectively, for each of the vessels, over the “wanton and criminal vandalisation and destruction of our clients’ ships MT FOLMAG BOND and MT BESKID and the expenses and losses attendant thereto.”
The Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges had on Monday held an investigative hearing on the matter, based on a petition filed by Ozekhome on behalf of the company.
In the petition, Ozekhome said his client, owners of a 2,500-metric-ton coastal tanker known as “MT FOLMAG BOND” was docked outside bar in Warri waters when pirates attacked and shot one of their crew members.
He added that the police had advised the Nigerian Navy to release the vessel to its owners, as nothing incriminating was not linked to the crime.
Ozekhome said, “When our clients went back to take possession of his ship, they discovered to their horror and shock that MT FOLMAG BOND had been 100 per cent vandalised by the Navy beyond economic repairs and utility.”
In his submission, Chairman of the Committee, Samuel Anyanwu, said the panel would invite the Ministry of Justice, the EFCC and the Nigerian Navy to come and explain their sides of the story “because without their own side the committee cannot give a valid judgment on the allegation.” (Punchng.com)