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Fraud: Court dismisses ex-NIMASA DG, Omatseye’s no-case application

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A Federal High Court in Lagos has dismissed the no-case application filed by a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Mr. Raymond Omatseye, charged with N1.5bn contract fraud.

Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia dismissed Omatseye’s application yesterday on the grounds that it was  lacking in merit.

The judge held that the charges against Omatseye were properly drafted according to the law and that it had become necessary for him to canvass argument in defence of himself.

She therefore slated February 18, 2015 for him to proceed into the dock to absolve himself of the allegations.

Omatseye had been charged with an amended 27-count bordering on contract scam and money laundering by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The EFCC had alleged that while in office as the NIMASA DG, Omatseye engaged in contract splitting and bid rigging estimated at over N1.5bn.

The offence, according to the anti-graft agency, contravened Section 58(4) (d) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

The accused was also said to have violated Sections 14(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.

But upon his re-arraignment before Ofili-Ajumogobia on January 21, 2013, Omatseye had pleaded not guilty to the alleged crime.

The court consequently called upon the prosecution, represented by Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), to substantiate its allegations.

At the end of its submissions, however, Omatseye, through his lawyer, Mr. Olusina Sofola (SAN), submitted a no-case application, wherein he urged the court to quash the charges for want of competence.

Sofola, while adopting the no-case application, had argued that since the charge against his client bordered on award of contract in sums above N4m, contrary to the Public Procurement Act, 2007, it was incumbent on the prosecution to state what the valid monetary threshold was at the time that Omatseye allegedly awarded the said contracts.

He submitted, “The definition of monetary threshold states that it is the value limit in Naira set by the bureau, outside of which an approving authority may not award a procurement contract.

“Even though the accused had admitted that his threshold was N5m for works and N2.5m for goods, the prosecution is duty-bound to establish what the valid threshold was as of the time the contract was awarded.

“Since the counts in the charge refer to monetary threshold and not only threshold, then, the court must look at the definition of monetary threshold and not threshold.

“We also invite the court to look again at section 16 (2) of the Public Procurement Act, which provides that the council shall consider, approve and amend the monetary threshold for the application of the provisions of this act, by procuring entities.”

Sofola maintained that the prosecution had failed to adduce sufficient evidence in support of its case  to warrant Omatseye to enter the dock in defence of himself.

He therefore urged the court to dismiss the charges in totality.

But in response, Obla had submitted that, “Assuming but not conceding that there is an error in the counts as contended, we submit that the alleged error if any, cannot render the counts invalid having regards to sections 166 of the Criminal Procedure Law.”

Ruling on the application yesterday, Ofili-Ajumogobia said she did not find any difficulty in agreeing with the prosecution that the counts in question, were properly drafted in accordance with the provision of the Public Procurement Act.

She held, “It is an abject misconception for the applicant to contend that the offence is committed when the award is actually made; this would go against the spirit and letters of the criminalising section.

“On the whole, I find this application to be lacking in merit; the applicant has failed woefully in his attempt to discredit the evidence adduced by prosecution in this case.

“At this stage of a trial, all that the court is required to do, is to satisfy itself that there is some tenable quantum of evidence before it links the accused to the offence.

“Having stated this much, the proper order which I think this court should make in the circumstance, is to dismiss this application in its entirety, and I so do.

“The applicant is therefore, called upon to enter his defence. This is my ruling as read out in open court,” Ofili-Ajumogobia held.–Ships and Ports

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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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