The Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr Dayo Apata on Tuesday hailed the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) decision to proceed with prosecuting violations of Nigerian law as a way of combating maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.
The tribunal had delivered an important ruling in favour of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in an Order on Provisional Measures, announced on 6th July 2019, in TheM/T “San Padre Pio” Case (Switzerland v. Nigeria).
In a signed press statement made available to newsmen via the office of the Deputy Director (Information) Ogundoro Modupe, Apata further described the ruling as “a vindication of Nigeria’s rights”
Recall that on the January 23rd 2018, the Nigerian Navy arrested a Swiss-Flagged Vessel – the M/T San Padre Pio at odd hours of the night, 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 contrary to Navy Regulations.
The Vessel, Crew Members and Cargo were subsequently handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for Prosecution.
Meanwhile, the EFCC is currently prosecuting the case at the Federal High Court, Port-Harcourt, while the ship Captain and three other crew members have since been released on bail.
But countering, the Switzerland government in May 2019 challenged Nigeria’s enforcement actions by instituting arbitral proceedings under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In the suit, Switzerland also requested that ITLOS 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
But in its 6 July 2019 Order, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) rejected Switzerland’s request that the prosecutions be suspended.
The Tribunal 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 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.
With the conclusion of the provisional measures phase before ITLOS, the parties will now proceed to adjudicate the underlying dispute at the Annex Seven (7) Arbitral Tribunal.