NATIMS annoyed over seaports terminal operators’ comments during CGC’s tour of Lagos

The Nigerians Against Theft in the Maritime Sector (NATIMS) a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has expressed its disappointment over comments by certain seaports terminal operators in Lagos, South-West Nigeria against other operators outside Lagos when the Comptroller-General (CG) of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Hammed Ali (rtd), toured their facilities in the course of his recent visit to the NCS Zone ‘A’.

A press statement signed by its Chairman, Dr. Jonahs Bankole, a copy of which was made available to newsmen, NATIMS said that it “believes and is convinced that Nigeria would be worse for it in terms of revenue generation if the Federal Government was blackmailed into mortgaging the bright future of the nation’s maritime sector by acceding to the requests” of the terminal operators levelling allegations against others.

The NGO stated: “NATIMS came to the informed conclusion based on the following reasons:
·        Two of the companies that complained about monopoly are notorious for the illegal diversion of vessels. While one of them was closed for 36 days between December 2015 and January 2016 for illegally diverting a vessel, the other paid N2.5 billion in February 2016 before a ship that was diverted to its terminal was released. 

·         The two companies are still in court restraining the National Assembly, the Attorney- General of the Federation, Ministries of Transport, Trade and Investment, Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigeria’s President from processing and amending the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority Act. 

·        It is the same group of agitating companies that were dealt a heavy blow in March 2016 when a Federal High Court in Lagos struck out their suit against the federal government on grounds for lack of jurisdiction. In the suit, Ports and Terminal Operators Nigeria Limited (PTOL) had alleged that vessels meant for their jetties were being diverted to other terminals since October 2013. To show their desperation, they filed a suit in court that did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the case and obtained an injunction which allowed them to receive large ocean going vessels until the suit was struck out. Government must have lost lots of revenue while the injunction lasted. 

·        During the CG’s visit, the companies accused government agencies of short changing the Federal government in terms expected revenue from the maritime sector when they are indeed perpetrators of the same offence. It is a known fact that any ship carrying oil and gas cargo and illegally diverted to a private jetty instead of an appropriate terminal as required by law translates into a huge financial loss to the federal government. Instead of discharging at the rate of 5.8 US dollars per ton of cargo at the appropriate terminal, same transaction goes for one dollar at the private jetties. 

·        The FPSO Egina project presented by one of the operators as the most worthy project of all times is fraught with litigations as a report contained in Thisday newspaper of April 6, 2016 shows that a legal firm has commenced committal proceedings against some of the promoters of the project. On April 14, 2016, The Nation newspaper ran a story where a lawyer urged President Muhammadu Buhari to stop work on the FPSO project until all legal issues about the project are resolved.” 

Recalling that the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, advised the company during a stakeholders meeting of concessionaires in Lagos to stop further implementation of the project until controversies surrounding it were resolved, NATIMS said: “The companies are so stubborn that they are disobeying Amaechi who had told them to restrict their operations with the limits of the law or face sanctions especially as regards the handling of oil and gas cargo.”

NATIMS stated that it “also recalled that over the years, NPA had offered technical explanations on why private jetties would not be allowed to receive FPSO and ocean-going vessels and the reasons had to do with the shallow nature of the depth of the water where the jetties are located, space required for large vessels to manueover, the need to avoid any mishap which would have dire consequences for the movement of other vessels.”

According to NATIMS, “there is a Presidential order banning private jetties from receiving ocean-going vessels at their terminals directly without such vessels first berthing at concessioner ports and obtaining all clearances before proceeding to final destination for discharging.”

The NGO went on: “NATIMS read with satisfaction the 10-paragraph statement issued by the NCS after the visit which showed that the essence of the CGs visit to terminal operators in Tin-Can Island was “`aimed at standardising Customs procedures, harmonising operations and enhancing revenue collection” and not to disclose monopoly among other issues that belong to the Federal Ministry of Transport.

 “NATIMS also wishes to draw the attention of the Federal Government to the fact that one of the companies forged a document that allowed it to receive two ocean going vessels per week and that it smuggled it into a government gazette. The Federal Ministry of Justice has also disassociated itself from the document.

 “NATIMS wishes to advise the Federal Government to investigate all the issues raised before considering the demands made by the terminal operators in Tin-Can Island in their desperate bid to grab more business space in the nation’s maritime sector.”