International Tribunal favours Nigeria Over Switzerland on $14M Dispute
The Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, SAN has said that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has delivered an important ruling in favour of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in an Order on Provisional Measures announced on the 6th July 2019, in the M/T “San Padre Pio “Case (Switzerland v. Nigeria).
Apata stated this during the Press Conference he had with the Judicial Correspondents on Tuesday, 9th July, 2019 in Abuja.
He said the case concerns Nigeria’s arrest and detention of a Swiss-flagged Oil Tanker, its crew, and cargo, for having violated Nigeria’s laws by engaging in ship-to-ship transfers of fuel oil for use in hydrocarbon production activities in Nigerian waters without the required permits and authorizations.
He explained that, “on January 23rd 2018, the Nigerian Navy arrested a Swiss-Flagged Vessel – the M/T San Padre Pio whilst undertaking a Ship to Ship transfer of fuel oil right inside a platform within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria, without the pre-requisite permits or authorization and at odd hours of the night, contrary to Navy Regulations”.
Furthermore, ‘’the Vessel, Crew Members and Cargo were subsequently handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for Prosecution. The EFCC is currently prosecuting the case at the Federal High Court, Port-Harcourt. The Captain and three other crew members were subsequently released on bail’’.
He said that in May 2019, Switzerland challenged Nigeria’s enforcement actions by instituting arbitral proceedings under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Also, Switzerland has requested that ITLOS should order the suspension of Nigeria’s criminal prosecutions of the vessel’s master and officers, not to institute new proceedings and that the Cargo, crew and the vessel be released.
Apata cited that in its 6th July 2019 Order, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), rejected Switzerland’s request that the prosecutions be suspended. However, the Tribunal has also conditioned the release of the vessel and the criminal defendants, who are Ukrainians nationals, upon Switzerland’s posting of a bond or other financial security in the amount of 14 million dollars (US$14 million) and on Switzerland’s giving unequivocal assurances, in the form of an undertaking binding under international law, that it guarantees their return to Nigeria, should Nigeria prevail in the arbitral proceedings.
The SGF/PS hailed the Tribunal’s decision as ‘’a vindication of Nigeria’s right to proceed with prosecuting these serious violations of Nigerian law, which is a key part of its efforts to combat maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guniea’’.
The SG/PS while expressing appreciation to Nigeria’s International Lawyers for taking up the challenge, disclosed that the case is not under any appeal.
The EFCC Chief Prosecutor, Abba Muhammed in response to questions said that, “the case is closed; it is now left for the defence, the bail is in the court of the defendant along with the bond”.
Representative of the EFCC, Chief Prosecutor, Abba Muhammed in response to questions from the Judicial Correspondents, explained that the Swiss Government proceeded to court, arising from the information by the Nigerian Government that the case was under investigation and prosecution when the Switzerland Government requested from Nigerian Government the release of the vessel.
“I feel strongly that the Switzerland has not been fully briefed that the arrest was made at the economy zone of Nigeria, so as it were on a comfortable zone waiting for the bond of $14 million that on their undertaking the Ukraine will be released by the Switzerland”, Muhammed explained.
In attendance were Lawyers representing Swiss government, Officers from the Nigerian Navy, Foreign Affairs Ministry and Ministry of Justice,