Nigeria defends oil theft dispute with Switzerland

Peter Bahago, Abuja Additional report: Ugo Okoro

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M/T San Padre Pio

The Nigerian Government says it has defended its position in a dispute against a shipping firm registered in Switzerland over alleged oil theft in the Niger Delta region of the country.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, ITLOS ruled in favour of Nigeria in the M/T San Padre Pio suit v. Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Akpata said this to newsmen in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The case concerns Nigeria’s arrest and detention of a Swiss Oil Tanker, it’s crew and cargo for engaging on ship to ship transfer of fuel in the Nigerian waters contrary to the country’s laws.

According to Mr. Akpata, the arrested persons were charged before a Federal High Court, Port Harcourt by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

The Solicitor General also said that Switzerland challenged Nigeria’s action by instituting arbitral proceedings under the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea and requested ITLOS to stop the criminal prosecution of the crew.

“Shortly after the trial commenced, Switzerland, dragged Nigeria before the International Tribunal, seeking to stop the criminal proceedings,” he said.

“The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) delivered an important ruling in favour of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in an Order on Provisional Measures, announced on 6th July 2019, in The M/T “San Padre Pio ” Case (Switzerland v. Nigeria).

“The case concerns Nigeria’s arrest and detention of a Swiss-fIagged Oil Tanker, its crew, and cargo, for having violated Nigeria’s laws by engaging in ship-to-ship transfers of fuel oil for use in hydrocarbon production activities in Nigerian waters without the required permits and authorizations.

“On January 23rd, 2018, the Nigerian Navy arrested a Swiss-Flagged Vessel the M/T San Padre Pio whilst undertaking a Ship to Ship transfer of fuel oil right inside a platform within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria, without the pre-requisite permits or authorization and at odd hours of the night, contrary to Navy Regulations.

“The Vessel, Crew Members and Cargo were subsequently handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for Prosecution.

“The EFCC is currently prosecuting the case at the Federal High Court, Port-Hancourt. The Captain and three other crew members were subsequently released on bail.

“In May 2019, Switzerland challenged Nigeria’s enforcement actions by instituting arbitral proceedings under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Switzerland also requested that ITLOS order the suspension of Nigeria’s criminal prosecutions of the vessel’s master and officers, not to institute new proceedings and that the Cargo, Crew and the vessel be released.

“In its 6th July 2019 Order, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) rejected Switzerland’s request that the prosecutions be suspended, ” he elaborated.

Mr. Akpata said that the ruling vindicated Nigeria’s right to proceed with prosecuting violations as part of efforts to combat maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.