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Legal action prevents AGF Chief of Naval Staff from transferring confiscated vessel from Nigeria to Gabon for potential sale

In anticipation of the hearing of a motion on notice initiated by the vessel’s owners, a Federal High Court in Abuja has halted the AGF, Minister of Justice, and Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff from transferring the seized MV Blue Shark to Cameroon or Gabon for sale.

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In Friday afternoon’s verdict in an ex-parte application, Justice Emeka Nwite granted the restraining order. The owners of the yacht were represented by Reuben Okpanachi Atabo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

Until the matter involving the ship’s owner is resolved, the judge further forbade the AGF and the Chief of Naval Staff from carrying out any foreign orders or judgments.

The senior lawyer had asked the court to prevent the AGF, Naval Chief, and a lawyer from Cameroon, Eugene Thomas Ndong Amaazee, from taking the MV Blue Shark from the Navy Dockyard in Port Harcourt to Cameroon, Gabon, or anywhere outside of Nigeria. Streamflow Global Services and Jerusalem Obokeno were represented by this lawyer.

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The Cameroonian lawyer had petitioned the Gabon court to have the vessel sold, and Atabo begged the court to stop the AGF and the Chief of Naval Staff from carrying it out.

The defendants and their agents are hereby restrained from removing the MV Blue Shark from the Navy Dockyard to either the Republic of Cameroon or Gabon, or any other place outside the Federal Republic of Nigeria, until the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed before this court, according to Justice Nwite, who granted the ex-parte application.

May 31st has been scheduled as the hearing date for the motion on notice entitled FHC/ABJ/CS/639/2024.

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In their application on notice, the two plaintiffs had previously voiced their displeasure with the defendants’ actions, namely about their plans to sell the vessel in Gabon.

They claimed that on May 6, 2024, while making a return trip from Gabon to Warri in Delta State to conduct repair operations, the vessel and its crew were wrongfully detained.

Plaintiffs Streamflow Global Energy Services and Jerusalem Obokeno are requesting the court to deem the custody, seizure, and arrest as unlawful and unconstitutional in the primary lawsuit filed by Atabo. They claim that these actions were taken without a valid court order.

John Oyadonga, Foxy Bakpar Afoke, David Owolo, Otugo Solomon, Ugbogure Idolor, Joseph Eke, Eric Ebiodench, Obiku Felix, Emmanuel Akpomudjere, Franklin Anyanwu, and Eric Ovwidi are among the crew members allegedly held in custody alongside the confiscated yacht.

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The writ of summons asks the court to direct the AGF and Chief of Naval Staff to promptly release the ship to the two plaintiffs and liberate the crew members from what they claim is an unfair detention.

In addition, they are requesting an injunction that would prevent the AGF, Chief of Naval Staff, and their representatives from transferring the ship from Nigeria to Gabon or the Republic of Cameroon.

In addition, they are requesting compensation for the unjust seizure and hold of the vessel in the amount of N500 million.

Following the completion of an agreement, the plaintiffs’ vessel was allegedly sent to Gabon with a crew of twelve in 2017 for use by the Perenco Oil and Gas Company of Gabon, according to the plaintiffs’ statement of claims.

They said they paid $5,000 to have a Cameroonian lawyer review the agreement and translate it from French to English.

The plaintiffs went on to say that in February 2024, the vessel had a mechanical issue that couldn’t be fixed in Gabon, so they decided to transfer it to Warri, Delta State, after getting the necessary paperwork and consent from the Gabonese naval and customs authorities.

They claimed that the ship and its crew were detained by AGF and Chief of Naval Staff personnel when they approached Port Harcourt, in response to an alleged order that the Cameroonian lawyer had procured.

The Minister of Defense reportedly intervened to return the vessel to Port Harcourt after it had been transferred to Cameroon.

According to the plaintiffs, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency has issued a bill of sale, and the Cameroonian lawyer is currently trying to convince the AGF and Naval Chief to sell the vessel to Gabon.

The plaintiffs urged the court to vacate the alleged order to transfer the vessel to Gabon, arguing that the Constitution of Nigeria prohibits the enforcement of foreign judgments or orders that have not been registered with the Municipal Law of Nigeria.

They further requested an injunction preventing the defendants from taking the vessel out of Nigeria and sending it to Cameroon or Gabon.

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