Contractors petitions NPA over alleged fraud at Warri Pilotage District
By Yemi Olakitan
ESPN, a firm that was recently contracted by the Federal Government to conduct pilotage services on ships sailing out of the Warri pilotage district has lamented that the alleged collusion of operators of oil service boats with officers at the Warri port has been shortchanging the NPA of revenue to the tune of millions of naira.
The pilotage firm, Escravos Ship Pilot Nigeria Limited (ESPNL), protested sharp practices at the Warri pilotage district of Delta State to the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) in a protest letter dated December 20, 2023 and addressed to the Managing Director, NPA, Koko Bello.
ESPNL urged him to wade in urgently into the ugly development of oil service boats/tankers and sanction any sports officials found to be implicated in the nefarious activities.
The Technical Director of ESPNL, Captain Charlie Tobi, lamented that a sting operation carried out on operators of oil service boats in the mandate area revealed that the majority of them have not been presenting for signing/endorsement of the mandatory documents, particularly “the Master Declaration Sheer”.
He disclosed that “investigations by ESPNL revealed that majority of the recalcitrant oil service boat operators have been colluding with unnamed NPA top officials who, in effect, have been letting them off the hook on issuing them what is known in the local parlance as ‘off record’, after receiving unspecified gratifications, thus diverting revenue meant for the federal government to private pockets.
“This is one of the reasons why the Warri Port is poor. The bad eggs within the NPA have been sabotaging the good efforts of the federal government”.
Nature News sources confirmed that while Intels is presently doing the monitoring, ESPNL is doing pilotage of oil service boats.
Consequently, operators of all oil service boats within the operational area are mandated to sign/endorse their “Master Declaration Sheet” showing the particulars of the ship, the owners, agents, cargo type as well as the gross registered tonnage, among others, in the course of any voyage undertaken for NPA’s record and for the safety of the vessel.
“They are referred to as off-record vessels. These practices were carried out by the previous harbour masters and were stopped by the management for contracting Escravos Warri Pilotage District to ESPNL.
“They are sabotaging management’s good efforts, and they are economic saboteurs. We cannot fold our arms and watch them continue these cruel habits.
“The management lacks funds to rebuild the Escravos submerged breakwaters, but this set of people are diverting the revenue that is supposed to come to the NPA’s purse. Only revenue generated from oil service boats is enough to rebuild the breakwaters.
“Harbour Master is supposed to fight for the interest of the NPA. We are appealing to the management to use its good offices to arrest this ugly act being carried out in this harbour”.
When contacted, a vessel owner simply identified as Alhaji, who is the owner of MV Whisky *9 Tug Boat, called for intensified sensitization among the oil service boat operators and other stakeholders including maritime agents in Delta state.
Another vessel owner, Joseph Fuludo, owner of MV David Rhema, admitted that the contractors that took over from Intels for oil service boats pilotage had not seen master declarations for his vessels for four trips.
While urging NPA to “step up efforts in its clearance operations to checkmate sharp practices in the system”, Fuludo stated that if a vessel is not cleared before going out, modalities ought to be put in place to cross-check at the signal stations along the route.
“Ordinarily, a vessel’s movement could be tracked from its point of departure en route its voyage till it berths at the jetty. It is not shipowners duty to do NPA’s job for them”, he submitted.
Recalled the pilotage operations, maritime sources, cover the channels between Escravos Fairway Buoy to Bennett Island, Escravos to Forcados River, Agge Anchorage to Ramos River and adjoining waters and channels.
Under the agreement, ESPNL is tasked by the federal government that its services shall commence from Ramos/Agge Anchorage/ Forcados River/Forcados Shoreline and disembark from the ship to Escravos Fairway/Forcados Offshore station not exceeding 10 nautical miles.