· ‘MT Breakthrough’ is a threat to navigation – Iheanacho
· AMCON operates illegally
· Freight agents groan as Terminals, Shipping Coys seize lockdown waivers
By Kenneth Jukpor
As the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) reaches its 10 years expiration date, the company has left an indelible mark on the nation’s shipping sector increasing the number of wrecks that pose navigational and security challenges in the maritime domain.
The body established by the Act of the National Assembly of Nigeria in July 2010 with an intended 10 years lifespan, acts as the buyer of banks for the Nigerian Government by acquiring the non-performing loans (NPL). However, the technicalities of shipping have left most vessels acquired by AMCON ending up as wrecks and abandoned on the nation’s waterways.
Following the expiration of AMCON’s 10 years lifespan, there are concerns that the agency is operating illegally, even as it has robbed the nation’s shipping sector of the numerous benefits of ships.
Beyond the environmental and security dangers posed by these wrecks, shipping experts have also lamented that the approach by AMCON sees the country lose already limited shipping assets that should have provided ample jobs and seatime experience for the nation’s seafarers.
Currently, an oil tanker known as ‘MT Breakthrough’ (IMO: 9095723) has been aground at the Takwabay beach in Lagos for more than three weeks, posing health, environmental and security challenges in the coastal area.
Another oil tanker ‘MT Nwabisa’ suffered similar fate ending up as a wreck after AMCON take over and there are several other vessels that ended as wrecks following AMCON take-over.
‘Breakthrough’ which is owned by Dr. Mkgeorge Onyung’s Jevkon Oil & Gas Nigeria, has been sailing under the flag of Nigeria prior to the complications which led to its take-over by AMCON.
Recall that Breakthrough was acquired by Jevkon Oil and Gas Limited after partnering Fin Bank plc (now First City Monument Bank (FCMB) to acquire the 2006 built, double hull vessel, for N156 million ($10.4 million) in 2009.
MT Breakthrough like many Nigerian vessels that have become scraps littering the nation’s waterways, was celebrated copiously as a major development in the maritime industry as well as the Nigerian flag, however, the activities of AMCON have stifled indigenous shipping.
Efforts to reach Dr. Onyung, who is also the President of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), were futile until press time.
Speaking with MMS Plus on the location of Breakthrough, the Chairman, Integrated Oil and Gas Limited, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho said, “The port authorities would have to determine the wreck is a danger to navigation. If it is an immediate danger to navigation, then there is an urgent requirement to set out a budget to commission people to move the wreck. If it isn’t, then it can be left there for so many years. If you say that it is located around the Takwabay beach, then it is not in the right place at all. It is important that we make arrangement to remove it immediately.”
Iheanacho, however, expressed displeasure that the vessel was allowed to go aground.
“I know that there are other technical issues with respect to wrecks, such as the disputes that led them to get to such a situation. However, I’m more concerned with the safety aspect of the stranding,” he said.
Iheanacho also stressed that when such cases emerge in future, the vessels should be removed if they pose dangers to navigation.
Noting that there is also a fiscal burden on the agency moving such vessels, he said “these are things that the industry has to determine.”
Although a Director at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) told our correspondent that the agency has initiated plans to remove the vessel, efforts to get the latest development from NIMASA’s Corporate Communications department were also futile.
Following the complexities in handling ships under the control of AMCON, MMS Plus reached the President of Nigerian Maritime Law Association (NMLA) Mr. Chidi Ilogu (SAN) to get the legal perspectives.
Ilogu said: “I heard about MT Breakthrough but I don’t have details about the circumstances and that should determine the analysis. However, there are general principles to be considered during such cases. Were the vessels kept at the said locations legitimately? If not, NIMASA should do its work. If there is an issue with the vessels going aground or becoming wrecks, the proper authorities should serve them a contravention notice to the effect that they constitute a threat to navigation. Other issues would depend on whether the vessels are in the pilotage area or the location.”
When quizzed on AMCON’s lack of expertise to handle ships, he said, “If a company owes and AMCON acquires the debt through a bank, it has a duty to see what it could do with the vessel. They may be entitled to sell the vessel to recover the monies being owed. AMCON is the debt recovery agency for the government. If a bank is owed a huge sum of money and has difficulty recovering the fund or the company is in liquidation, AMCON takes over and tries to see how much they can recover from the debt and that includes selling the assets of the company including ships. There are several vessels that AMCON had to take over with a view to recovering debts. Sometimes people go to court to challenge AMCON over the vessel and that could be what happened with Breakthrough”
Leaving these ships on the shores unmanned also pose environmental and security challenges in the maritime domain and shipping experts have faulted AMCON’s role in this.
Maritime veterans have also posited that AMCON shouldn’t continue seizing ships when the Corporation doesn’t have a ship desk or related unit to deal with the peculiarities of ships.
Meanwhile, a top source at NIMASA, urged the federal government to review AMCON’s role in taking over ships, lamenting that the agency’s lack of understanding on shipping was responsible for the numerous wrecks for ships that could have been salvaged.
According to the source, the government should establish a ship desk or related unit at AMCON with veteran shipping experts to speedily handle seized ships or deploy other approaches for taking over ships.
He lamented that the number of ships that became wrecks after AMCON take-over is disadvantageous to the nation’s shipping sector where ship acquisition has been a major challenge.
“I think we need to review the role of AMCON where it affects ships. Nigerian ship owners are diminishing and the nation ought to maximize the available ships and not allow them to turn into wrecks.
MMS Plus investigation revealed that some of the jettisoned ships, mostly tankers, are found on Lagos waterways. Our correspondent counted over 20 ship wrecks mostly tankers, on the waterway between Ojo and Tin Can Island, on Thursday, last week.
Recall that the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh recently vowed to eliminate the navigational hazards associated with ship scraps and wrecks on Nigerian waters
Dr. Jamoh gave this assurance during a parley with journalists, as he noted that the issue of scraps has become a huge challenge to safe navigation on the nation’s water.
“I didn’t know the extent of the challenges we had with ship scrapping until recently. In fact, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas made the complaint to me and he lamented that the level of wrecks between Badagry and Tin Can Island is shocking.”
The NIMASA boss also described the ship wrecks as valuable assets worth significant sums when duly scrapped, stressing that the agency would deal with those involved in illegal ship scrapping because they were robbing the nation of its assets.
Meanwhile, freight agents have lamented that terminal operators and shipping companies are yet to comply with the federal government directive to issue refunds for storage charges and demurrage collected for the period under the lockdown.
In a bid to ameliorate the fiscal burden on port users, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC)has directed shipping companies to refund charges collected as demurrages while Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) directed terminal operators to refund storage charges for the period.
Speaking with MMS Plus newspaper on this last week, the Chairman of Association of Nigeria Customs Licensed Agents (ANLCA) Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) Chapter, Comrade Goddy Sewa-Soleji stressed this, expressing regrets that several weeks after, terminals and shipping companies are yet to comply.
“No terminal or shipping company has complied to the refund. NPA and Shippers’ Council are aware of this because we have written to them on this. We remain highly optimistic that these monies would be refunded. It is highly unlawful for these terminals operating in the country to behave in such manner despite the commensurate waivers they were assured by the government,” he said.
Soleji posited that allowing the companies to continue operations without honouring that directive give an impression that they are above the law.