The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Monday arraigned a vessel under the name: MV Peace, and its crew for allegedly possessing 200 metric tonnes of a petroleum product illegally.

The vessel’s Captain, James Abatan, and other crew members were brought before a Federal High Court in Lagos on a three-count charge bordering on storage and dealing in petroleum product without appropriate licence.

The other accused persons are Wasiu Abdul Owonikoko, Patrick Ameh, Johson Ademola, Felix Otto, Chigozie Oguike, Olu Salisu, Jomo Gadagbe, Kunle Oba Saheed and Rasheed Adio. All the accused, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

But the EFCC Prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, said that the accused committed the offences on April 4 in Lagos. Oyedepo said that the accused were in possession of 200 metric tonnes of a petroleum product without appropriate licence.

He said that the accused stored the petroleum product inside the vessel known as `MV Peace` without lawful authority. He said that the offences contravened Sections 1, 3 (1) (6) (17) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. He also said that the offences also contravened Section 4 of the Petroleum Act, Cap P10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

“The Nigerian Navy had on June 16 handed over the accused to the EFCC on the basis that they were dealing in petroleum product without requisite license. “Samples of the product found on the vessel was analysed by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and it is confirmed that the product was Automated Gas Oil (AGO). “The accused also did not produce genuine licence from the DPR authorising them to deal in the product on board the vessel,’’ the EFCC prosecutor said.

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Oyedepo said the whereabouts of the company that owned the vessel was yet unknown. “On paper, it is D Dove Oil and Maritime Services Ltd. whose registered address is at Plot 2, Lateef Jakande Road, Agindingbi, Ikeja that owns the vessel. “But on further enquiry, the company has relocated to an unknown destination,’’ he said.

The prosecutor also said that there were some other suspects in the case that are still at large. “In view of the public interest and the current mood of the nation, it will be safer to remand the accused in protective custody,’’ the prosecutor said.

But Counsel to the accused, Mr Dada Awoshika, told the court that the accused should be entitled to bail. He, therefore, urged the court to grant his clients bail on liberal terms.

“The vessel is duly certified by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to operate on the Nigerian territorial waters and the Nigerian Navy gave the vessel approval to embark on voyage on Nigerian waters. “Besides, the accused have never been arrested in connection with any offence,’’ he said.

Awoshika said that the accused would attend all of the court’s proceedings if granted bail. In his ruling, Justice Mohammed Idris remanded the accused and adjourned the case to July 28 for ruling on the bail application.

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