The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has finally bowed to the pressure mounted by the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) and lifted a ban on 113 foreign vessels, mostly very large crude carriers (VLCCs) into Nigeria’s territorial waters less than two months after the ban was imposed.
Acting on the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari, NNPC imposed the ban shortly after Buhari assumed office over concerns that most of the tankers were complicit in incidents of crude oil theft from Nigerian oil terminals.
INTERTANKO, whose members were mostly affected by the ban of the 113 vessels, is one of the largest groups in the shipping industry with 207 full members and 285 associate members, and a registered fleet of over 3,000 tankers of over 270 million DWT (deadweight).
In his capacity as the then Group General Manager of NNPC in charge of Crude Oil Marketing Division, Mr. Gbenga Komolafe had in a letter last July conveyed the decision of the corporation to ban the vessels from Nigerian loading terminals and territorial waters, citing a directive from Buhari.
The letter, which was addressed to all terminal operators of the 27 crude oil loading terminals in Nigeria, said the ban took immediate effect.
The 27 affected terminals included Forcados, Bonny, Bonga, Sea Eagle, Qua Iboe, Erha, Yoho, Usan, Bonny River Terminal, Escravos, Agbami, Pennington, Escravos LPG FSO, and Escravos Gas Terminal.
Others included Antan, Okwori, Odudu, Akpo, Brass, Abo, Okono, Oyo, Ima, Okoro, Ukpokiti, Tulja and Ebok.
Some of the 113 vessels affected by the ban included Maran Callisto, MV Kalamos, Overseas Kilimanjaro, MV Eliza, MV Happinnes, MV Brightoil Gem, VK Eddie, MV Achilleas, MV Progress, Universal Brave and Noridic Hunter, among others.
But NNPC eventually lifted the ban on 113 vessels, according to a letter by NNPC’s Group General Manager in charge of Crude Oil Sales Division, Mr. Mele Kyari, which was seen by Reuters.
The letter dated September 8 said the president approved the consideration of all incoming ships subject to a letter guaranteeing that they are free and will not be used for any illegal activity.
It added that the president had directed a review of activities of all affected vessels to determine culpability in illegal operations in Nigerian territorial waters.
The letter also directed that all incoming vessels into Nigerian waters must get a “Letter of Comfort” from export terminal operators and buyers of Nigerian crude as “guarantee that nominated vessels are free and will not be utilised for any illegal activity whatsoever”.
When contacted, the spokesman of NNPC, Mr. Ohi Alegbe promised to respond appropriately on the matter.
INTERTANKO, whose independent members own the majority of the world’s tanker fleet, had in a protest letter by its General Counsel, Michele White to NNPC dated July 22, said that there were no “evidence or grounds” given for the ban of the 113 tankers.
The protest letter, which was also copied to the Nigerian High Commissioner in London and the country’s Alternate Permanent Representative at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), had requested that the ban should “be lifted with immediate effect until grounds and evidence for the ban have been given to each vessel and its owner or operator, and the owner or operator has had an opportunity to respond”.
The lifting of the ban came just as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu stated that the corporation will provide all the necessary enablers to make the Kaduna Refining Petrochemical Company (KRPC) operate commercially and optimally.
Speaking yesterday on the refineries during a facility tour of the plant in Kaduna, Kachikwu noted that the refinery will soon experience a turn around that will make it to be commercially sustainable.
“You will soon have a different company, we must do all it takes to make this company a success,” he said, while addressing staff of KRPC.
According to him, all the component units of the refinery including the Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit (FCCU) as well as the fuel section will be fully rehabilitated for resumption of crude supply to the plant.
“We must make the FCCU and the fuel section to work in the next three months so that Nigerians will continue to enjoy uninterrupted supply of petroleum products,” he said.
Addressing the staff in a town hall meeting after the tour, Kachikwu said: “A lot of energy is being invested to give an accelerated face lift to the refinery,” adding that no stone would be left unturned in his determination to put the plant on the path of profitability.
He pointed out that though the challenges militating against the operations of the refineries were huge, they were not insurmountable.
He praised the vision and foresight of past Nigerian leaders for establishing the refineries and challenged the present generation to sustain the vision, adding that all hands must be on deck to salvage the plants.
kachikwu further disclosed that in view of the nation’s low refining capacity, there was need to establish more refineries in the country.
“I am pushing to build new refineries next to our existing plants in order to boost the nation’s refining capacity for the common good,” Kachikwu stated, explaining that the new refineries will be developed by private investors and that NNPC’s role will be just to provide them with space close to the existing refineries to enable them share key facilities such as pipelines and storage facilities.
He promised to undertake periodic visits to the refineries in order to galvanise the process of bringing them to optimal level of efficiency.
In his remarks, the Group Executive Director, Refining and Technology, Mr. Dennis Ajulu, expressed optimism in the ability of NNPC to rise above its challenges and reposition itself on the path of profitability.
On his part, the Managing Director of KRPC, Mr. Saidu Mohammed, said the staff of the company was fully aligned to the vision of commercialisation and would support the Kachikwu in that drive.
Kachikwu last week inspected the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries, and subsequently gave the management of the Warri refinery a 90-day ultimatum to bring the plant on stream.