· Flouts court judgment, plans illegal sale of ship
· NIMASA may reabsorb 25 Tompolo vessels
By Kenneth Jukpor
Following investigation on the circumstances that made an oil tanker ‘MT Breakthrough’ go aground at Takwabay beach in Lagos, the fate of the ship highlights the numerous flaws and conspiracy in the nation’s shipping sector.
The activities of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) have also been central to the chaos which has shattered the businesses of several ship owners in the country, albeit with envy and conspiracy among themselves.
MMS Plus gathered that Breakthrough as well as several ships that have gone aground as a result of the huge conspiracy in the industry was orchestrated by some shipping stakeholders, especially those who have no stake or assets in shipping.
Contrary to the perspective in the public domain that the owners of ‘Breakthrough’ were involved in a monetary fiasco with AMCON owning the ship; our correspondent gathered that AMCON had realized more than three times the monies owed and flouted court judgment as it purported to sell the ship.
Some fraudulent officials at AMCON had allegedly prearranged to sell the ship before the ship owner’s debt was cleared in April 2020. Therefore, the corporation ejected the ship’s crew and towed the ship using inappropriate tugboats and personnel which led to the vessel going astray and drifting to Takwabay beach.
While industry observers posit that the ship had lived up to its name ‘Breakthrough’ as it floated away to a public space evading the overzealous management by AMCON, Nigerian ship owners and the maritime industry may have a debacle if the reports of the ‘Breakthrough’ ship are true.
The problems of the oil tanker began after AMCON took over its financiers ‘Finbank’ in 2016, leading to the corporation conscripting the vessel as its asset.
However, a Federal High Court judgment in Lagos provided an arrangement as to how the vessel’s owner, Jevkon Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited and AMCON would go about the funding.
AMCON and Jevkon reportedly had court settlement that stated how much was owed, how much will be paid and how to go about the repayment. Meanwhile, one of the conditions in the agreement that would lead to complete take-over by AMCON would be a situation where the vessel stays for six months without contracts.
While this agreement was reached in 2016, both parties were complying until 2017 when a charterer allegedly started conspiring with some AMCON officials to buy the vessel. MMS Plus gathered that instead of paying the ship owner for the services, the client argued that the property was an AMCON asset and declined payment, whilst exploring options to buy the vessel.
It was at this point the managers of Breakthrough seized the cargo (36,000 barrels of crude oil) as lien and landed in court over the issue. Consequently, the ship was confiscated for over six months even as the value of the cargo increased tremendously with the vessel making $6.6million without undergoing any voyage.
Breakthrough (IMO: 9095723) is also believed to have $1.9 million domiciled as bank guaranty in Access bank to the Federal High Court in Lagos by the client who allegedly conspired with top AMCON officials to acquire the vessel.
Till this moment, neither the ship owner, Dr. Mkgeorge Onyung nor the Head of Corporate Communications, AMCON, Mr. Jude Nwauzor have commented on the issue.
However, our correspondent gathered that the shipping industry may be set to witness events that would redefine shipping in the country with a titanic legal tussle between AMCON and the ship owners anticipated in the next few weeks.
NIMASA is believed to have squared up to AMCON after the ship was allowed to run aground and the leadership of the maritime agency expressed dissatisfaction on the matter, but the new NIMASA leadership is being meticulous as AMCON is a government outfit tasked with acquiring the non-performing loans (NPL) of banks.
Industry veterans, on the other hand, argue that the ship owner is entitled to over N800million settlement while others state that AMCON owes the ship owner a new ship.
As President of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), the maritime industry observers anticipate that it would be another reason Dr. Onyung’s Jevkon Oil and Gas would fight AMCON over the mishandling of the vessel.
While Onyung has already established a media conservative personality in the nation’s maritime domain, the silence by AMCON spokesperson is becoming worrisome and could be perceived that the agency knows the gravity of its actions and intentionally evades the press.
The ship which was built in 2006 was celebrated as the first Cabotage Nigeria flag brand new ship in an elaborate maritime fanfare in 2009, is currently aground on the shores of Takwabay beach, depreciating steadily into a wreck.
After one month aground, the vessel has been labeled a threat posing health, environmental and security challenges in the coastal area.
Despite the fact that the Breakthrough episode is an unfortunate one, it has also been described as an epitome of the sacrifices Nigerian ship owners have to make because the nation doesn’t understand the dynamics of shipping.
The President General of Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Comrade Adewale Adeyanju shared this perspective during an exclusive chat with MMS Plus newspaper on Friday, last week.
According to Adeyanju, the maritime industry can take solace in the fact that the new Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh is a veteran and has already shown willingness to tackle issues headlong including the Breakthrough ship.
He stressed that NIMASA should do all within its powers to prevent further loss of vessels, noting that the shipping sector was already suffering a dearth of ships to absorb the nation’s seafarers for seatime and employment.
While the technicalities of shipping has left most vessels acquired by AMCON ending up as wrecks and abandoned on the nation’s waterways, NIMASA’s efforts to combat piracy on the nation’s waterways may be boosted with the impending receipt of maritime security assets of Global West Vessel Specialist Limited.
This is expected after the Federal High Court in Lagos, dismissed the entire 40 counts bordering on alleged N34billion fraud filed by the Federal Government against Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, a company linked to a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo.
Speaking with journalists recently, the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Jamoh indicated that the lingering court case and suspicious practices discovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2015 led to the interruption of the Global West business with about 25 vessels seized, located at the Naval dockyard.
“After the investigation, EFCC would determine what would happen to those vessels. Part of the Global West agreement also stated that NIMASA would own the assets of Global West after ten years because it was a Public-Private Partnership (PPP). We believed that in ten years the company would have recovered the investment on the vessels and made substantial profit. However, we never reached the ten year period so the vessels cannot be appropriated as NIMASA’s property and the vessels can’t be put to use because of the ongoing investigation,” the NIMASA boss said.
Giving details on the Deep Blue project anticipated to provide a comprehensive framework to address maritime security issues, the NIMASA Director General noted that the agency has received two special mission vessels, fourteen fast interceptor vessels out of the seventeen expected and thirteen armoured cars with three others expected.
“The contract also provides for two special mission aircrafts and they would be due in August this year. We also have the C4i centre for intelligence gathering. This C4i centre has been working for over a year and it assisted in getting the recent criminals apprehended. We have also discovered in the course of our collaboration that the Police have i24/7, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has C3i and the Navy has the Falcon Eye. In a bid to synergize, we agreed that we would make these platforms interface with each other,” Jamoh said.