Court orders Nigerian Navy to pay N200m damages over illegal detention of vessel

A Federal High Court, Lagos has ordered the Nigerian Navy and its Chief of Naval Staff jointly and severally to pay an oil company, Mercury Oil Limited the sum of N200 million damages for illegally detaining its vessel, MT SAPPHIRE 1 and siphoning 280,000 litres of Automated Gas Oil (AGO) contained in the said vessel.

In his judgment, the trial judge,Chukwujekwu Aneke said, “The present case brought to the fore once again the arrogant, brutal, callous and capricious manner our law enforcement agencies commonly adopt in the exercise of their functions to the consternation and embarrassment of any discerning and decent minds around. We are in a democracy and must do everything to enthrone and nurture democratic ethos for the good of the society.”

The judgment of the court was sequel to an enforcement of a fundamental right suit filed by Norrison Quakers (SAN) before the court on behalf of Mercury Oil Limited, its vessel MT SAPPHIRE 1, and four crew members on board, Folorunso Olayiwola, Joshua A. Arthur, Asabalashe O.Johnson, and Wale Alade.

In an affidavit in support of their application sworn to by the Managing Director of Mercury Oil Company, Osita Onumonu and argued before the court by Quakers, the deponent averred that sometime in February 2014, Mercury Oil company was engaged in offshore operation to load Automotive Gas Oil (AGO).

According to him, relevant approvals were gotten. However, the vessel and its crewmembers were arrested on suspicion of engaging in illegal operations.

After due investigation by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), which is the body responsible for such investigation, the vessel was cleared of any wrong doing or illegal activities and recommended that the vessel should be released, but the Nigerian Navy refused.

He averred that during the period the vessel was in detention, the 280,000 litres of oil contained in the vessel was illegally siphoned by the Nigerian Navy.

The product on board of the vessel was averred to have been financed by bank loan to the tune of N170m.

Consequently, the applicants while demanding for N200m as general damages urged the court not only to declare their arrest and detention illegal but to also declare as illegal and unlawful the siphoning of 280,000 liters of the AGO on board of their vessel.

In spite of being served with the court process several times repeatedly, coupled with several adjournments, Nigerian Navy and its Chief Of Naval Staff did not file any defence.

In his judgment, Justice Aneke acceded to the request of the applicants and ordered the respondents to pay N200m as damages to the applicants.

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