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Court Bars AGF, CNS from moving seized Vessel to Gabon for sale

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A Federal High Court in Abuja has stopped the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice and Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff from moving a seized Vessel, MV Blue Shark to either Cameroon or Gabon for sale pending the hearing of a motion on notice instituted by owners of the vessel.

Justice Emeka Nwite issued the restraining order on Friday afternoon while ruling in an ex-parte application argued by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Reuben Okpanachi Atabo on behalf of the owners of the vessel.

The Judge also barred the AGF and Chief of Naval Staff from acting or giving effect to any order or judgment that may have emanated outside the country until the case of the vessel owner has been disposed off.

The senior lawyer had on behalf of the Streamflow Global Services and Jerusalem Obokeno prayed the Court for order of interim injunction restraining the AGF, Naval Chief and a Cameroonian lawyer, Eugene Thomas Ndong Amaazee from moving the vessel known as MV Blue Shark from the Navy Dockyard in Port Harcourt to Cameroon, Gabon or any place outside Nigeria.

Atabo also pleaded with the court to prohibit the AGF and Chief of Naval Staff from giving effect to an order of Gabon court brought by the Cameroonian lawyer seeking to move the Vessel to Gabon for sale.

Justice Nwite while granting the ex-parte application said: “an order of interim injunction is hereby made by this court restraining the defendants and their agents from removing MV Blue Shark from the Navy Dockyard in to either Republic of Cameroon or Gabon or any other place outside the Federal Republic of Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed before this court.

The motion on notice marked FHC/ABJ/CS/639/2024 has been fixed for May 31 for hearing.

The two plaintiffs had in the motion on notice complained that the defendants were making move to take the Vessel to Gabon for sale.

Thay alleged that the vessel was unlawfully arrested and detained alongside its crew since May 6, 2024 while returning from Gabon to Warri in Delta State to carry out repair works

In the main suit instituted by Atabo, the plaintiffs, Streamflow Global Energy Services and Jerusalem Obokeno are praying the Court to declare the arrest, seizure and detention as illegal and unconstitutional, having been allegedly carried out without a lawful order of court.

Apart from the seized vessel, the crews were alleged to have been clamped into detention and they are John Oyadonga, Foxy Bakpar Afoke, David Owolo, Otugo Solomon, Ugbogure Idolor, Joseph Eke, Eric Ebiodench, Obiku Felix, Emmanuel Akpomudjere, Franklin Anyanwu and Eric Ovwidi.

In the writ of summons, the two plaintiffs are asking the court to order the AGF and Chief of Naval Staff to immediately release the vessel to them and free the crew members from their alleged unjust incarceration.

They are also asking for an order of injunction prohibiting the AGF and Chief of Naval Staff as well as their agents from moving the vessel from Nigeria to either Republic of Cameroon or Gabon.

Besides, they are praying for a sum of N500M as damages to be paid to them for the unlawful arrest and detention of the vessel.

In their statement of claims, plaintiffs asserted that in 2017, a Gabon based Perenco Oil and Gas Company engaged the use of their Vessel and that after the execution of an agreement, the Vessel was moved to Gabon with 12 members crew.

They claimed to have engaged the service of the Cameroonian lawyer to interpret French language to English and to vet the agreement at a cost of $5,000 which was paid.

Plaintiffs further asserted that sometimes in February 2024, the Vessel developed technical fault and could not be immediately repaired in Gabon promoting decision to move it to Warri, in Delta State upon obtaining requisite documents and approval from Gabonese Customs and Naval authority.

While approaching Port Harcourt, they alleged that officials of the AGF and Chief of Naval Staff arrested the vessel and the crew members on a purported order obtained by the Cameroonian lawyer.

The Vessel was said to have been moved to Cameroon before the intervention of the Minister of Defence which led to bringing the Vessel back to Port Harcourt.

The plaintiffs alleged that the Cameroonian lawyer is in the process of persuading the AGF and Naval Chief to move the Vessel to Gabon for sale adding that bill of sale has been issued by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.

Insisting that no foreign country judgment or order can be enforced without being first registered with the Municipal Law of Nigeria in accordance with the Constitution, the plaintiffs asked the court to declare as a nullity the purported order being acted upon to move the Vessel to Gabon.

They also prayed for order of injunction prohibiting the defendants from carrying out the movement of the Vessel out of Nigeria to either Cameroon or Gabon.

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