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EFCC, DSS begin fresh probes on Illegal oil lifting

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… As N’Assembly insists Buhari was misled over N47bn lawmakers’ exotic cars

There are strong indications that the Department of State Services and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission are conducting fresh investigations into illegal lifting of the country’s crude oil between 2007 and 2015.

It was learnt on Friday that the agencies were focusing on 113 vessels that the Federal Government banned last July from lifting Nigeria’s crude oil.

The EFCC, as part of its investigation into oil theft, had in June last year quizzed some top officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

A source in the DSS, who confided in one of our correspondents, said that the fresh investigations were aimed at getting “strong evidence” against companies involved in oil theft to ensure diligent prosecution.

The source stated that the DSS would submit its findings to the Ministry of Justice after the investigation.

“The investigations are to ensure that we block loopholes so that we will have a good case when the trial begins,” he said.

It was gathered that an inter-agency committee, which the Federal Government set up in July last year to collect data on 113 vessels, had submitted its report to the government.

The committee consisting the DSS, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency; Nigerian Navy, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Department of Petroleum Resources was mandated to collect data on 113 vessels, which the government in July banned from lifting Nigeria’s crude oil.

It was learnt that the government had forwarded the report of the inter-agency committee to the DSS and EFCC, with the aim of probing the activities of the affected companies.

Although the DSS source, who confided in one of our correspondents, declined to name the companies, he said that some of them belonged to powerful politicians in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The NNPC had in July banned 113 vessels from lifting Nigeria’s crude oil.

According to reports, the embargo was not unconnected with abuses that had characterised crude oil lifting in the past.

The ban, it was gathered, was aimed at sending a strong signal to those who were engaging in illegal lifting of crude oil.

But in September, the NNPC lifted the embargo placed on the 113 vessels and set-up the inter-agency committee.

The corporation had, in a statement, explained that the embargo was lifted following the receipt of letters of comforts from the affected companies that their vessels would not be used for illegal activities.

Findings showed that some of the vessels, in order to hide their illegal activities, had documents in Chinese, Russian and French.

It was also gathered that the inter-agency committee, in its report, explained activities of illegal crude oil lifters.

These include tapping into crude pipelines or directly tapping the wellhead by removing the Christmas Tree, (a structure on the wellhead).

Holes, which are used in siphoning crude oil into small barges, are attached to the wellheads.

Last year, the EFCC had invited a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company and three other executive directors of the NNPC in relation to lifting of oil without payment.

Officials of the NDPC, who were grilled, were alleged to have said that they released crude oil to some firms on the instruction of a former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, but the minister was said to have denied the claim.

Attempts to get the EFCC’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, did not succeed as calls to his mobile telephone did not connect. Also, the DSS could not be reached as it had yet to get a spokesperson.

But when contacted, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, on Friday confirmed that investigations into oil theft were going on.

He, however, said that the trial of suspected looters of oil revenue was being delayed because of the need for investigators to gather sufficient evidence that could secure conviction.

Malami, speaking on the telephone with one of our correspondents, said no specific time for the trial of the suspects to commence could be given due to ongoing efforts to ensure that comprehensive investigation was carried out.

He said, “Nobody can tell you with certainty when trial will begin. But definitely it must come to pass. There is no doubt about it.

“There is no way you can go to court with a half-baked case, your case must be fully baked before you go to court but that entails comprehensive investigation and getting the required proof of evidence to support your case to enable you to eventually win the case.”

When asked about the stages of the investigations, he said, “I do not understand whether investigation has stages, but investigations are on and aggressive for that matter and to be concluded within the shortest possible time.”

Malami also said that efforts were being made to ensure expeditious determination of the cases when they get to court.

He said, “This time around whichever case we take to court, we will make sure that it is expeditiously determined. So by the time we take off, we expect immediate and aggressive prosecution that will yield result. Time is of essence as far as prosecution is concerned.”

Meanwhile, the National Assembly on Sunday said its members were eager to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari over the President’s “claim” that the National Assembly planned to spend over N47bn to buy exotic cars this year.

The House of Representatives, on its part, stated that a meeting with Buhari would put the records straight on how the President got his figure, since the legislature had not contemplated “making such a mind-boggling” expenditure.

Buhari had, during his maiden Presidential Media Chat on Wednesday last week, wondered that the National Assembly planned to buy cars worth over N47bn, in addition to taking car loans and generous transport allowances.

“I can’t see the National Assembly spending more than N47bn to buy cars on top of transport allowance they collect.

“I have to revisit that story. The budget for their transport allowance comes up to N100bn. With the kind of money that goes into the National Assembly, we have to look at it conscientiously and see how we can live within our means,” he had said.

Buhari announced that he would hold a closed-door meeting with the legislators to discuss the issue.

However, both the Senate and the House of Representatives in their separate reactions less than 24 hours after the media chat, denied that there was a plan to buy cars worth the amount the President quoted.

Speaking with The PUNCH on Sunday, House Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, said the members were prepared to meet with the President, where the lawmakers planned to ask him how he arrived at the figure.

Ogor stated that since making the announcement last week, there had been no communication from the Presidency on when the meeting would take place.

But he told The PUNCH that members were willing to meet with the President to address the “misinformation for the purpose of avoiding needless crises.”

He added, “There is no meeting fixed that I am aware of for now.

“But, as a House, we welcome discussions with Mr. President to avoid unnecessary frictions.”

The minority leader also pointed out that the President made “several assumptions” about his powers, especially in relation to the power of appropriation.

According to him, Buhari, during the chat, seemed to assume that all the proposals of the executive in the 2016 budget of N6.08tn were sacrosanct and did not require any scrutiny by the National Assembly.

“We advise that, in keeping with the principle of separation of powers, he should read sections 4,5,6 and 80 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) jointly for clearer understanding of which arm of government has the power of appropriation.

“All that is contained in the entire budget remains a mere proposal until approved by the National Assembly the way it deems fit,” he added.

Ogor added that the National Assembly too would need to be convinced why the Presidency proposed to buy cars worth about N3.5bn this year.

He argued that while nobody raised eyebrows over the Presidency’s budget on cars, a “non-existing” figure of N47bn was quoted for the National Assembly as its planned expenditure on exotic cars this year.

The lawmaker stated, “The Presidency proposed to buy cars for almost N3.5bn, there is electrical wiring of almost N300m.

“There are so many proposals in the Presidency’s budget that we think should be subjected to thorough discussions. Some of the proposals in the Presidency’s budget may not even stand.

“Where we are not convinced, we will remove and take some sub-heads to areas we think they are needed.”

He claimed that Buhari took the wrong step my starting a “media war” with the National Assembly in his first media chat.

The lawmaker observed that the option of opening discussions with the National Assembly on issues he might not have been “adequately briefed on” should have preceded the media war.

Also, the Senate spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said the red chamber was prepared to meet with Buhari on the proposed plan by the National Assembly to purchase official vehicles for the 469 federal lawmakers.

Abdullahi told one of our correspondents on the telephone that media reports on the issue, which quoted various sums of money being the cost of procuring the vehicles, actually misled members of the public on the issue.

He explained that the exact amount that the vehicles would cost could not be determined by the National Assembly at the moment because the contract for their procurement had not been awarded.

He added, “We in the Senate are ready and prepared to meet with the President on the issue. There is no way we can exercise our legislative functions especially in the area of oversight, using our personal cars.

“We need official vehicles to move around the country because we do not have to rely on government agencies under our supervision for such logistics if we really have to carry out an unbiased exercise.

“Nigerians should also note that we are not asking for too much by requesting Sport Utility Vehicles as official vehicles because there is no senator or member of the House of Representatives that cannot afford one. So, to us it’s not a luxury but a necessity to do our work better. “

Abdullahi appealed to Nigerians, especially the media, to cooperate with members of the National Assembly in the task of performing its constitutional roles of providing necessary checks and balances for effective governance.

Upshot 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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