By Kayode Matthew
The Federal Ministry of Justice and the Police have agreed to an out of court settlement in the suit filed by the owners of a foreign vessel, M T Pentagrum which was said to have been wrongfully detained for two years and subsequently suffered damage as a result of neglect.
The vesselâ€™s owners, in a suit filed at a Federal High Court Lagos are claiming $20 million for the replacement value of the vessel while the Justice Ministry in its own investigations assessed the value at $15 million to $20 million.
The Ministry of Justice has therefore requested the Ministry of Transport and in particular the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency â€œto ensure the verification of the plaintiffsâ€™ claim and assess the past and current value of a European built vessel with the specifications similar to the plaintiffsâ€™ vessel.Â This will enable the Government arrive at a just and fair position in the matterâ€.
The relevant organs of government responsible for advising on appropriate value of the vessel are however delaying the move to immediately settle the matter out of court.
The vessel was said to be outside Nigerian territorial waters sometime in March 2004 when it developed an electrical fault causing it to send a distress signal which was responded to by men of the Nigerian Navy who towed the vessel into Nigerian Territorial waters.
The Navy on April 21 2004 later accused the vessel of entering Nigerian waters illegally and without lights and detained both the vessel and the crew members for seven months before handing them to the police.
Despite the legal advice of the Rivers State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that the ship and its crew had no case to answer and the judgment of a Federal High Court Port Harcourt on October 4 2005 which ordered their release, they were not released until May 16 2006 by which time the vessel had suffered substantial damage and depreciation in its value