By Ejiofor Alike
Following the intervention of top officials of the federal government, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA) has lifted its blockade on the Bonny Channel, giving access to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)-carrying vessels to the Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) loading bay on Bonny Island.
NIMASA had on Friday used the facilities of Global West Vessels Specialists Limited (GWVSL), a firm believed to be owned by a former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, to block access to the Bonny Channel, thereby hindering the NLNG vessels from leaving or reaching the area.
The action of the maritime regulator followed the alleged disregard and unwillingness of the NLNG Limited to abide by the country‚Äôs maritime laws.
With the agency‚Äôs action, NLNG vessels‚Äô access to the Bonny Channel from the fairway buoy at the beginning of the Channel, to buoys 17 and 18 was blocked, according to the maritime regulator.
NIMASA accused NLNG Limited of utter disregard and unwillingness to abide by the country‚Äôs maritime laws especially, the NIMISA Act, which mandates payment of levies based on gross freight on exports and imports and the Cabotage Law.
According to NIMASA, ‚ÄúSince its inception, the NLNG has cherry-picked our laws.‚Äù
But following the intervention of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, and her colleague in the Ministry of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, as well as the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), the blockade was lifted Sunday.
Confirming the development, the General Manager in charge of External Relations at the NLNG Limited, Kudo Eresia-Eke, said in a statement that LNG-carrying vessels had been given access to the company‚Äôs loading bay on Bonny Island.
The statement however reiterated NLNG‚Äôs position that it was exempted from the levies in contention by the provisions of the NLNG Act, insisting that an amicable solution should be sought under the rule of law.
‚ÄúIt may be recalled that the Supreme Court had in another but similar case affirmed NLNG‚Äôs position vis-√†-vis the law,‚Äù the statement added.
THISDAY gathered that the Managing Director of NLNG Limited, Mr. Babs Jolayemi Omotowa, and his team flew into Lagos from Port Harcourt on Saturday and held a two-hour meeting with NIMASA officials at the Southern Sun Hotel, Ikoyi.
The details of the meeting were sketchy at press time but it was learnt that both parties were yet to shift grounds on their positions.
NLNG also confirmed that following a meeting between the management of NLNG and NIMASA on Saturday, both parties agreed to continue dialogue towards finding a solution to the lingering disagreement.
‚ÄúNigeria LNG Limited is a law-abiding corporate citizen of Nigeria and pays all its lawful dues and taxes. It has, in fact, in the recent past received commendations and won awards for its promptitude and honesty in payment of taxes to government. NLNG remains the arrowhead in the federal government‚Äôs efforts to stop gas flaring in Nigeria, contributes significant revenues to the Nigerian government and accounts for four per cent of Nigeria‚Äôs GDP,‚Äù the statement added.
Nigeria LNG Limited is jointly owned by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) (49 percent), Shell (25.6 percent), Total LNG (15 percent) and Eni (10.4 percent).