Culled from Thisday Newspaper
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Thursday arraigned nine foreigners and one vessel alleged to be involved in illegal oil bunkering before Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos on a four-count charge bordering on conspiracy and illegal dealing in petroleum products.
The accused persons comprising five Bangladeshi and four Filipinos are Axel Joseph Gibo Jabone, MD Zahirul Islam, Juanto Camireno Infantado, Suarin Fernando Alave, Gatila Jaypee Gadayan, Islam Shahinul; Islam Rafiqul, Shaikh Shibli Nomany and Rolando Jose Comendador. The vessel is MT Asteris.
The vessel and its crew were intercepted by Nigerian Navy Ship Beecroft during a routine patrol in Lagos in March 26, 2015 in Lagos with 3423.097 metric tonnes of crude oil without lawful authority or appropriate licence, an offence contrary to Section 1(19)(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 17 of the same Act.
The accused persons entered a not-guilty plea when the charges were read to them.
Justice Buba granted all the accused bail in the sum N50 million with two sureties in like sum.
All accused and sureties must deposit their international passports with two recent passport photographs with the court.
The case was adjourned to June 23, 2015 for commencement of trial.
The vessel was intercepted by Nigerian Navy March 26 when its officers observed it was drifting on the ships radar with her automatic identification system switched off, which is against the International Maritime Organisation Regulation.
When MT ASTERIS was intercepted, the vessel had 100 per cent foreign crew members, while its captain claimed to have sailed from Cotonou, Benin Republic on sea trials and that the vessel was not carrying any product.
However, on investigation, the vessel was discovered to be carrying petroleum products contrary to the captain’s initial claim. On interrogation, the captain could not produces any relevant document authorising the lifting of the LPFO on board, where the product was lifted and the destination.
In another development, Justice Buba told 14 foreigners, arraigned by EFCC for illegal oil bunkering, that they have a case to answer and should be ready to face trial.
This fact was stressed yesterday when the court dismissed an application filed before it by the foreigners, seeking to quash a four-count charge preferred against them and for the court to strike out the matter entirely, on the basis that the prosecution did not secure and obtain a written consent of the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, in line with the provisions of the Exclusive Economic Zone Act of Nigeria.
In his ruling, Justice Buba said: “This court does not find any merit on this application, it is hereby dismissed.”
Earlier, the EFCC, through its counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, had opposed the application on point of law, arguing that, the EFCC was statutorily empowered to prosecute the alleged offenders.
He reminded the court that the EFCC can enforce the provisions of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, which was the Act the accused persons allegedly contravened.
Meanwhile, trial commenced in the matter immediately the court threw out the application of the accused persons. Oyedepo presented the first prosecution witness, Captian Chiedozie Donald Okedi before the court.
Okedi, commanding officer of the Nigeria Sailing Ship, Centenary, Victoria Island, Nigeria, narrated to the court how the foreigners were arrested.
According to him, on March 8, 2015, while conducting routine patrol within Lagos territorial waters, his team observed a vessel loitering, with the radar of the vessel off.
He said the captain of the ship claimed not to be aware that the radar was off. And when asked what the vessel was doing within Lagos waters, the captain allegedly claimed to be conducting ship -to -ship transfer but could not achieve it because of a problem.
Okedi said some checks on documents of the vessel showed that it was carrying about 3000 metric tonnes of LPFO (low pour fuel oil) and about 1,500 metric tons of Automotive Gas Oil( AGO).
The vessel was not registered with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA. It was on the basis of all these that the vessel was arrested.
After listening to the narration of the arrest of the vessel by Okedi, Justice Buba adjourned the case to June 23 for continuation of trial.