- As CBN declares : We’ve been selling forex to airlines
The four crew members of a chemical tanker that were kidnapped off Nigeria on March 5 have been released and are reported to be in good health, the Hellenic Coast Guard said.
World Maritime News reports that the undisclosed owner of the chemical tanker, which has also remained unnamed, told the coast guard that the crew, including three Greek nationals and one Filipino, were freed on March 28th.
The Panamanian-flagged tanker was hijacked by a group of armed pirates while the ship was underway some 32nm South West of Bonny Island, Nigeria. The ship had 22 crew members and one passenger on board when the armed group boarded the tanker.
The remaining crew members retreated to the citadel, escaping pirates, who left the ship shortly after boarding, taking four crew members with them.
Once the pirates abandoned the vessel, the remaining crew members managed to sail the tanker to a safe port.
The terms of the crew’s release have not been disclosed, but it is highly likely that the ship owner had to pay ransom to free his crew.
Kidnappings in Nigerian waters and most recently off Philippines have become ever more frequent as pirates resort to taking hostages for ransom as a funding method, reports
In the meantime, the Central Bank of Nigeria has described claims by some airlines that they are unable to access foreign exchange to repatriate the proceeds of their operations as untrue.
A number of airlines operating on international routes from the country had claimed that their inability to access forex was hampering their operations and was responsible for the increase in airfares, in some cases by as much as 100 per cent.
But the CBN said it had been selling forex to the airlines through the commercial banks at the interbank rate.
The spokesperson for the apex bank, Isaac Okoroafor, told our correspondent on the telephone that anyone in doubt as to whether the airlines had been accessing forex
or not should go through the published statements of sale by the banks.
“The scarcity of forex is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is the same situation in most commodity-dependent economies, especially those that depend on oil. So, what we have been doing is toprioritise the sale of forex. The airlines may not be having enough, but that is not enough reason for them to begin to increase airfares arbitrarily,” he said.
The CBN spokesperson lamented that in spite of the access of the airlines to forex, there had been an alarming hike in the cost of flight tickets.
According to him, it is curious that while business class fare used to be as low as N600,000, some of the airlines now offer it for close to N2m.
He explained that the central bank’s method of making forex available had been to identify key sectors and industries that would drive growth and curtail excessive forex demand.
“What is not possible is for the CBN to meet just any demand by some of the airlines. We all need to understand that there is no way we will collect all our reserves to satisfy just few businesses, while other ones suffer,” Okoroafor said.
World Maritime News with additional report from Upshot