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Disquiet at NIMASA over NLNG’s demands for $315m judgement debt

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Palpable disquiet can best be described as the scenario at the management hierarchy of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) since Monday when the Nigeria LNG Limited made it public that it had formally issued a demand notice for $315,598,823.29 judgment debt to the federal agency.

Several attempts by our correspondent to reach any top official to comment on the matter failed as some who chose to speak on grounds of anonymity said the management is trying to work out something.

In a statement made available to Business Hilights by NLNG, the company averred that the sum represented the payments it made under protest to the agency since 2013, as well as direct and shipping losses it incurred due to the initial two-day blockade of the Bonny Channel by NIMASA in May 2013.

Continuing, the gas merchant said the development followed the decision on October 3, 2017 by the Federal High Court, Lagos that the NLNG was not liable to make the said payments to NIMASA, and that all such payments already made by it to NIMASA should be repaid forthwith.

It would be recalled that the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Mohammed Idris, had held that NIMASA was wrong in blockading the Bonny Channel for the purpose of enforcing the payments against the NLNG.

According to the General Manager, External Relations, NLNG, Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke, said, “The Federal High Court ruling transcends being simply a legal victory for the NLNG. It must be viewed for what it really is: A resounding message from Nigeria to the global investment community”.

“The message is that we can be trusted to keep our sovereign word and that Nigeria remains open for business, partnership and investments.”

Trouble had started when NIMASA alleged that NLNG was liable to pay three per cent gross freight levy on its international inbound and outbound cargo, Sea Protection Levy; two per cent cabotage surcharge as well as other sundry claims, all of which the NLNG disputed.

This prompted NLNG in 2013 to lead the case at the Federal High Court against NIMASA, seeking a judicial determination on, among other things, the legality or otherwise of the levies sought to be imposed on the NLNG by NIMASA, and the consequent blockade of the Bonny Channel by NIMASA and its agents as a result of the dispute.

While revealing that it had also sought a court order restraining NIMASA from further blockade of the channel, the company added that an interim injunction granted in favour of the NLNG by the Federal High Court was disobeyed by NIMASA, which again blockaded the Bonny Channel over a three-week period while the matter was pending, thereby preventing the NLNG vessels and other vessels doing business with the company from entering and exiting through the channel.