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Antwerp Terminal Operators Under Investigation

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  • As FG declares: 15 ex-govs, 40 others stole N1.34tn in eight years 

The European Commission has started an investigation into reductions in compensation payments to two container terminal operators in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, to establish whether the alleged aid gave them an undue advantage over competitors.

Under the concession agreements with PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV, the container terminal operators in the Port of Antwerp, the operators needed to handle a minimum amount of containers in the port every year.

Between 2009 and 2012 the two operators did not reach the set minimum tonnage requirements, and, under the agreements, were obliged to pay compensation to the authority.

However, instead of collecting the compensation, in March 2013 the Antwerp Port Authority, which is a public authority, retroactively revised the minimum tonnage requirements downwards, significantly reducing the amount of compensation to be paid by the two operators by around 80%.

Therefore the reduction in compensation that it granted to PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV is a public intervention.

“Following a complaint from a competitor, the commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether a private investor would have accepted to reduce its compensation in a similar manner,” the EU commission said.

“If the operation was not carried out on market terms it could constitute state aid as defined by EU rules. The commission would then verify whether such aid could be authorised under state aid rules that allow member states to grant state aid for certain public interest goals.”

In 2004, the Antwerp Port Authority concluded concession contracts with PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV for a period of 42 years for container transhipment services in the Deurganck dock.

In the meantime, the Federal Government has alleged that 55 former government functionaries and top businessmen stole N1.34tn from public treasury in eight years.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the allegation at a press conference to announce a National Sensitisation Campaign against Corruption in Abuja on Monday.

Although Mohammed did not disclose the authority for the allegation, he categorised the officials involved in the corrupt practices to include former state governors, ex-ministers, former legislators, civil servants, bankers and other businessmen.

Different government agencies, including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Department of State Services and some ad hoc committees have been intensely involved in one investigation or the other since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015.

Mohammed said, “The situation is dire and the time to act is now. Between 2006 and 2013, just 55 people allegedly stole a total of N1.34tn in Nigeria. That’s more than a quarter of last year’s national budget.

“Out of the stolen funds, 15 former governors allegedly stole N146.84bn; four former ministers allegedly stole N7.05bn; five former legislators allegedly stole N8.35bn; 12 former public servants, both at federal and state levels, allegedly stole over N14.18bn; eight people in the banking industry allegedly stole N524bn; while 11 businessmen allegedly stole N653bn.

“What do these figures translate to in the actual sense? In other words, what is the cost of these stolen funds to Nigerians? Using the World Bank rates and costs, one-third of the stolen funds could have provided 635.18 kilometres of road; built 36 ultra-modern hospitals, that is one ultra-modern hospital per state; built 183 schools; educated 3,974 children from primary to tertiary level at N25.24m per child; and built 20,062 units of two-bedroomed houses.

“This is the money that a few people, just 55 in number, allegedly stole within a period of just eight years. And instead of a national outrage, all we hear are these nonsensical statements that the government is fighting only the opposition or that the government is engaging in vendetta.”

He urged Nigerians to get involved in the war against corruption.

Mohammed said everyone that had been soiled in the pool of corruption would go in for it no matter the party affiliation, adding that Buhari’s war on corruption was neither a one-man show nor a political vendetta.

He said, “Let’s take the latest issue of the $2.1bn arms deal as an example. One thing is clear. Funds meant to fight terrorism were deployed in another fight, the fight to keep the then President Goodluck Jonathan and his party, the PDP, in power at all costs.

“So far, based on what we know, no one, who has been accused of partaking in the sharing of the (arms purchase) funds, has denied receiving money. All we have heard from them are ludicrous reasons why they partook in the sharing of the money.

“One said he collected N4.5bn for spiritual purposes; another said he received N2.1bn for publicity, while yet another said he got N13bn to pay someone else for the Maritime University land.

“Based on these revelations, should we now fold our hands and allow these people to go away with public funds? Is anyone thinking about the innocent soldiers, who lost their lives just because they did not get the necessary weapons to fight the terrorists? What about the families left behind by these soldiers, who were sent to their early graves because of the misappropriation of these funds?.

The minister added, “Talking about the costs of corruption, gentlemen, it is time we brought into perspective what corruption has done to our nation, our people and our international image; how corruption stifles economic growth, hinders the fight against poverty, leads to decay in infrastructure and reduces educational standards, lowers life expectancy, stunts the fight against maternal and infant mortality and impacts negatively on the general livelihood of the citizens.

“Irrespective of your political, religious or tribal leanings, and not minding whether you belong to the APC, PDP, SDP or Labour Party, if you have stolen public funds, you must not go scot-free. Everyone and every arm of government must rise up to be counted in this epic war and defeat is not an option, if our country is to survive.’’

Some Nigerians, however, believed they should not just be informed on the magnitude of the amount looted but demanded that the identities of the looters should be made public while those found to have taken part in the sharing of such money be made to refund the funds stolen, be prosecuted and jailed accordingly.

Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, said, “These are incredible figures of what has been stolen from our public treasury. We advise, however, that the issue of theft of our collective patrimony is a law enforcement issue, it’s a criminal issue, it’s a prosecution issue, it’s ultimately adjudication issue. In other words, Nigerians are not particularly interested in these figures.

“Nigerians have the right to know and need to know what has gone wrong in the past, what is going wrong now and what may go wrong in the future. But we want a credible prosecution process such that these 55 Nigerians, who stole money, can be brought to trial and those who are undergoing trial can have their trials re-visited urgently under the new Administration of Criminal Justice Act so that those trials can come to an end and the loots recovered and put to good use in the interest of the public.

“The recovered loot should not be re-looted like the funds recovered from Abacha.”

In his reaction, the President of Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, also advised the government to be more interested in the prosecution of the suspects and the recovery of the loot.

Ugwummadu, a lawyer, said, “He (Lai Mohammed) is not a court of law. He should join forces with law enforcement agencies, which have the exclusive responsibilities of collating credible evidence.

‘‘The idea of running to town with figures of stolen money like a crown crier is not expected of government.’’

An elder statesman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, as well as the Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Ibuchukwu Ezike, said Nigerians were tired of wild allegations without seeing the looters being brought to book.

Braithwaite said, “People are fed up with wild allegations from this government. Not long ago, Buhari came out to announce that he had the list of individual corrupt persons, who had looted the Nigerian treasury. Up untill now, we haven’t seen anything.

“I take the allegation with a pinch of salt until and unless he publishes the names and takes action.’’

Ezike, on his own, stated, “When government makes allegation about corrupt people, we are no longer interested except we begin to see these people being investigated and prosecuted and the money recovered from them made public to the Nigerian people and have this money transparently expended in the interest of Nigerians.”

Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said though the minister was correct, the revelation by him should culminate in the prosecution of the suspects.

He, however, reiterated that Lai Mohammed’s revelation alligned with the belief that only one per cent of Nigerians enjoyed 99 per cent of the nation’s commonwealth.

He said, “Lai Mohammed is correct. Now that this has been published, Nigerians are interested in addressing the issue through the judicial process.

“Nigerians are interested in the case such that even if the suspects escape justice, they are able to ostracise them and shame them.”

World Maritime News with additional report from Punch

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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