Written By Paul Ladi, Lagos
An oil firm, Mercury Oil Company, owner of “MT Sapphire” vessel alongside four crew members, has instituted a N200 million suit before a Federal High Court, Lagos, against the Nigerian Navy, over alleged unlawful detention of its operational vessel named ‘MT Sapphire 1″.
Other plaintiffs in the suit who were the employees of the oil firm were; Folorunso Olayiwola, Joshua A. Arthur, Asabalahie O. Johnson and Wale Alade.
While those joined as co-respondents in the suit are; the Chief of Naval Staff and The Flag Officer Commanding, FOC, Central Naval Command.
The oil company and other applicants in the fundamental enforcement suit filed by their lawyer, Mr. Norrison I Quakers, SAN, in an affidavit in support of the suit deposed to by Adekunle Folorunsho, the company’s managing Director, averred that sometime in February 2014, the vessel and its crew members were arrested by officer of Nigerian Navy along the Brass Rivers, Bayelsa state, on suspicion of engaging in illegal operations.
Mr. Adekunle averred that after thorough investigation by the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, (NSCDC), which is the body responsible for the investigation of the illegal act, the applicants were cleared of any wrongdoing or illegal activities, and recommended that the applicants should be released but the said directives of NSCDC were not immediately obeyed, and that the Nigerian Navy only obeyed in part by releasing the vessel’s crew members after seven months, and willfully refused, ignored and failed to comply with the said directive to release the vessel from February 2014 till date.
The deponent averred further that during the period and arrest and detention of “MT SAPPHIRE 1”, the vessel was laden with over 280,000
liters of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) popularly called diesel, but while in custody of the Nigerian Navy the AGO was illegally siphoned by the respondents leaving only the sludge remnant.
He added that by reason of the continued detention of the vessel, his company has lost over N200 million, as expected revenue when the vessel was deployed for use by way of charter to the companies in the Oil and Gas industry.
He added that the company had been put through huge monumental loss and financial hardship as a result of the theft, diversion and illegal removal of over one million litres of Automated Gasoline Oil, valued N150 million from the vessel.
According to him, at the time of arrest, the cargo was financed by two commercial banks Diamond bank and Fidelity bank respectively, which credit facility has remained unpaid as a result of the unlawful arrest and detention of the applicants by the respondents resulting in the inability of Mercury Oil company being unable to sell and dispose of the cargo on the vessel as to meet its financial obligation to the two banks.
The deponent stated further that the company’s managing director, Mr. Osita Onumonu, as a result of continued detention of the vessel by the Nigerian Navy, has had to sell his property in partial fulfilment to meet the obligation of the company to the two banks that advanced the credit facility to enable the company import the petroleum aboard the vessel.
The deponent disclosed that the company’s managing director is now daily living in fear and under the threats of the banks stripping him of his other properties to liquidate the company’s outstanding indebtedness.
He stated that since the detention of the vessel by the respondents despite the directives of the NSCDC to release it, the vessel had not been able to fulfil the purpose for which it was purchased, therefore making it impossible for the company to liquidate its indebtedness to the banks and since the vessel is unmanned and no crew member is on board the vessel to work, manage and control it, it is incurring huge financial cost of repair if not immediately salvaged, and failing which the vessel is deteriorating and becoming rust bucket with no financial benefit to the company.
Folorunsho also stated that since the detention of the vessel, its crew have been deprived of source of livelihood with its rippling effects to themselves, families and loved dependants.
Consequently, the applicants are claiming the sum of N200million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the illegal act of the Nigerian Navy, while also seeking a court declaration that their arrest and detention without trial in court or tribunal established by law is an infraction of their rights to liberty, and that the willful refusal of the Nigerian Navy to obey the directive of the NSCDC to release the vessel, having carried out its investigation, was an infraction on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the vessel’s liberty and therefore unlawful, unconstitutional and illegal.
They are also seeking an order of the court compelling the Nigerian Navy to forthwith release the vessel unconditionally from its detention facility or any other place of custodial confinement.
However, the matter has been adjourned till September 22 for hearing.
Meanwhile the applicants have filed an application before the court to hear the case during the long judicial vacation, on the ground that, if not the applicants will continue to suffer untold hardship, monumental and irreparable loss from the continue detention by the Nigerian Navy.
However, the Nigerian Navy and other defendants are yet not file any response to the suit at the time of this report.