Topaz fights to overturn arrest of three vessels in Nigeria, $9m lawsuit

Topaz Energy and Marine expects a “prompt resolution” to a dispute with a disgruntled business partner in Nigeria which has been granted a Federal High Court injunction freezing the movement of three Topaz vessels as it seeks $9million (about N2.75billion) in damages for an alleged breach of contract.

A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State ordered the “arrest” of Topaz PSVs Amani and Seema (both 32,000dwt) and crew boat Breeze on August 17.

The ex-parte motion was filed by Cutra International Ltd against Dubai-headquartered Topaz Energy and Marine Ltd as first respondent and subsidiary Topaz Marine Nigeria Ltd.

Justice Ibrahim Watila subsequently granted a Mareva injunction, freezing the assets from trading in or leaving Nigerian waters pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit and adjourned the case until September 9.

However, Topaz was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday to seek the release of two the vessels given that “their value far outweighs the $9million damages claim” by Cutra International. It will then return on September 9 to defend the plaintiff’s allegations and seek the release of the third vessel.

“Topaz confirms that three vessels have, through an injunction, been restricted from moving out of and trading in Nigeria by the High Court in Port Harcourt, Nigeria,” a Topaz spokesman said.

“This is in conjunction with a law suit arising from a business dispute in Nigeria. Topaz has applied for the injunction to be set aside and is confident of a positive outcome in the very near future and remains committed to Nigeria, and the West Africa region.”

The company said the court case would have no bearing on its commitment to operations in Nigeria or elsewhere in West Africa where it has a number of outstanding tenders for work in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We believe that Africa presents a great long term opportunity and in the short term, every market has been affected by the oversupply of OSVs and the lack of demand or the deferral of capital projects. That’s not exclusive to Africa. Now, Africa does have its own problems of course, the regime change in Nigeria and a lot of those kind of things affected the business climate as well.

“But no, Africa has a lot of oil that they need to get out of the ground and we’d like to be there to assist that,” the Topaz spokesperson said.

Topaz has six vessels currently deployed under its Africa arm where it operates out of Nigeria and Angola with a workforce of 237 offshore and 27 onshore staff according to its 2015 annual report. Energy major Total is Topaz’s biggest client in Nigeria.

However, the dramatic drop in oil and gas activity in West Africa has seen Topaz cull its African fleet by half since last year on utilization rates of just 44%, including four AHTSVs which were redeployed to Mena and Caspian Sea operations.

Revenue from Africa fell by 25% to $28.9million in 2015 and the challenges have continued into 2016 with a $2.1million, or 19.1%, decrease in revenue to $8.9 million for the first half compared to $11million for the corresponding period last year.

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