* Blockade on LNG ships costing $22 mln a day since June 21
* Maritime security agency says NLNG owes $158 mln levies (Adds NLNG, NIMASA, Tompolo background, gagging order)
By Tim Cocks and Oludare Mayowa
LAGOS, July 8 (Reuters) – A Nigerian federal court reiterated an order on Monday for the maritime security agency to end a blockade of Nigeria’s liquefied¬†natural gas¬†company (NLNG) ships that is costing an estimated $22 million a day, a lawyer said.
Justice M.B. Idris rejected an application against the ruling from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Global West, a security company contracted to enforce the blockade, lawyer for NLNG Tola Oshobi told Reuters outside the Lagos court.
Since June 21 NIMASA has barred LNG¬†cargoes¬†from entering or leaving the loading bay at the Bonny terminal in the Niger Delta because it says NLNG is not paying a 3 percent levy, from which the NLNG argues it is exempt.
“The court has refused the application of the defendant and the order barring NIMASA and Global West from interfering in the operations of LNG stays,” Oshobi said.
It is unclear what difference the court ruling will make, since NIMASA and Global West ignored the last one issued in June. NIMASA wants $158 million in total, including back pay.
Security sources with knowledge of the matter say Global West, a private security company, is run by a former Niger Delta militant, Government Ekpumopolo, nicknamed “Tompolo”, although he is not officially on its board.
Tompolo was one of several ex-militant commanders in the Delta who were paid off under a government amnesty programme in 2009 to end attacks on oil installations that at one point had cut oil production by half.
The company enjoys a lucrative contract with the government to handle maritime security issues. Tompolo, who rarely gives interviews or talks to the press himself, has not commented on the dispute with NLNG.
Oshobi said NLNG had filed a complaint for contempt of court against the Nigerian government and Global West for failing to leave its premises when ordered to do so.
Spokesmen for NLNG and NIMASA both said they could not comment because the judge had ordered them not to pending further hearings. These included on a renewed application by NIMASA to maintain the blockade and on the levy dispute itself – on whether NLNG really should pay the taxes NIMASA is claiming or not. They are in court again on Tuesday.
LNG accounted for 9 percent of Nigeria’s¬†exports¬†in 2012, according to one economist, or $8.1 billion, so the blockade is costing Nigeria $22 million a day in gas exports.
NLNG declared force majeure – an inability is unable to fulfil its contractual obligations due to circumstances beyond its control – on gas exports on June 28 because of the blockade.
Nigeria’s state oil firm owns 49 percent of NLNG with Shell holding 25.6 percent, Total 15 percent and Eni 10.4 percent. (Editing by James Jukwey)