April 16, 2024

Destruction of EVIDENCE: Soljas Maritime, owner of burnt diesel-laden vessel, drags Nigerian Navy, others to court

Soljass Maritime Limited,

Oredola Adeola

 

Soljas Maritime Limited, owner of the vessel MV Cecilia Imo, conveying the Automotive Gas oil (AGO), also known as diesel. that was destroyed on August 22 by members of the Marine Component of the Military Joint Task Force of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), has dragged the Nigerian Navy, Chief of Naval Staff, and the Commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship Pathfinder to court over allegation of recklessness and bad faith shown by the maritime force.

 

BACKGROUND STORY

 

The officers of the Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe, after the arrest of the vessel on August 16 took it out of the jetty on August 22 and set it ablaze allegedly without proper investigation and contacting the owners of the vessel, (Soljas Limited).

 

Chief Jasper Ako, Managing Director of Soljas Limited, denied that the vessel, which is an aluminum crew boat valued at $6 million, had a storage capacity of 350, 000.

 

The Owner accused the Nigerian Navy of acting too hastily and maliciously, as it denied using the vessel for any illegal dealings or storage of illegally refined diesel, contrary to the allegation by the Nigerian Navy.

 

The owner, through their legal representative, Austine Ojekudo and Co., explained that the vessel, which was moored at Meco Jetty in Gbalajam, Woji, Port Harcourt, Rivers State since 2020, was placed in the custody of the jetty manager, Meco Newyear Tagar, for renting purpose.

Ojekudo stated that the owner pays N150,000 monthly as mooring charges and employed a security man, Obriku Paulinus, to secure the boat and to inform the owners of any possible hirer.

 

He stressed that the ownerdid not know what the jetty manager, Tagar, used the vessel for, saying they did not authorise him or ask him to act on their behalf.

 

 

Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, defending the action of the Navy said that the MV CECELIA has been a vessel of interest and was being tracked for allegations of oil theft.

 

The Navy spokesman said the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with extant procedure.

 

Ayo-Vaughan noted that the behaviour of the alleged owner was not surprising, as it had been the practice among oil thieves.

 

 

THE NAVY AND OWNER NOW IN COURT

 

In a suit marked FHC/PH/CS/157/2023 filed at the Federal High Court Port Harcourt, the plaintiffs are suing the Nigerian Navy, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, and Attorney General/Minister of Justice of the Federation.

 

Also petitioned are the Commander of Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Olusegun Ferreira, Commander NNS Pathfinder Commodore Desmond Igbo, and the Maritime Component Commander of OPDS Commodore Adedokun Siyanbade.

 

Ifedayo Adedipe, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, leading the plaintiff’s legal team, berated the defendants for not serving his team with their notice of preliminary objection despite having filed it in December.

 

 

David Okechukwu, Counsel to the Chief of Naval Staff, requested that the matter be adjourned to January 29, 2024, for a hearing but this was vehemently opposed by Adedipe who warned his opponents against stalling the case and wasting the time of the court.

 

After listening to both parties, presiding Judge, Justice Sada’atu Mark adjourned the case to November 29 for a hearing.

 

She therefore directed that all parties file all their motions before the adjourned date.

 

The Nigerian Navy (NN) says the Merchant Vessel (MV) CECELIA arrested on Aug. 15 at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, was carrying illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO).