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Navy hangs on to vessels freed by court

Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ette- Ibas, ( 4th right ) and other senior naval officers at the end of his tour of commands under the Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy.

BY Godfrey Bivbere   & Eguono Odjegba

The Nigerian Licensed Ship Chandlers Association has said the Nigeria Navy is still holding on to indigenous vessels ordered to be released by the court following judgments in favour of the said vessels.

The vessels are part of the 130 arrested by the Navy between 2018 and February 2019.

The chandlers said the Navy has refused to release the vessels affected by the judgment given under competent courts of law, setting itself above the laws of the land; and constituting unnecessary impediments to trade, with wrong signals to the international community that may be interested in investing in the nation’s maritime industry.

President of the association, Dr Charles Enebeli, told  Vanguard Maritime Report that efforts to make the naval authority release the vessels have so far fallen on deaf ears.

He explained that this ugly episode is capable of eroding investors confidence in the economy, adding that the development has impacted negatively on the activities of chandlers and vessel owners, some of whom he claimed have succumbed to health challenges, induced by the attack on their businesses.

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He said, “When security agencies make arrests, we expect that such actions are based on factual violations. Since none of the security agencies is a law unto itself, we also expect that they cannot be a judge in their case and therefore, must be answerable to the laws of the land.

“Some owners have gone to court to challenge the arrest of their vessels and courts have given some of the judgments in their favour. The courts have ordered that Navy should release the affected vessels because the Navy could not prove tangible offences against these vessels. But the Navy has refused to respect the court rulings by holding on to the vessels.

“Some owners are already very sick, this is their lifetime business, some are owing banks, some have various obligations to fulfil, and somebody somewhere is appropriating the law unto itself. So this is where we are, the Navy submitted self to the jurisdiction of the court, but after the judgment that was not in her favour, the authority has disregarded the court.”

Mr Abel Iwarah, a barrister at law said the Navy, like any other security organ, is obliged to respect court summon and respect court processes and verdict. Cargo shipping is a business endeavour and not military matters, therefore, the Navy is bound by the decision of the judiciary and should not be seen to do otherwise.

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“The matter in question is merchant shipping which is a business operation. All parties to business disputes and in this case, the arrest of merchant’s vessel by the Navy on grounds of suspicion of procedural violation is within the judicial jurisdiction, to which Navy must submit, whether in terms of summoning, application and processes, and verdict and penalties. Any conduct contrary to the position of the law court is ultra vires. Nigeria is not a banana republic, we are a responsible democracy”, Iwarah posited.

Recall that the arrest of 130 vessels by the Navy was announced recently by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, hinting that the arrests were made possible by the enhancement of navy’s surveillance capability.

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