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Abuja – The Federal Government on Tuesday said it had successfully defended Nigeria’s rights in the dispute against Switzerland at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

The International Tribunal had on July 6, 2019, delivered a ruling in favour of Nigeria in an order on provisional measures, announced in the M/T San Padre Pio case (Switzerland v. Nigeria).

Briefing newsmen on Tuesday, the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, said the case was in respect of Nigeria’s arrest and detention of a Swiss-flagged oil tanker, its crew, and cargo.

Apata stated that the vessel and its crew were arrested and detained 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 authorisations.

“On January 23rd, 2019, 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 authorisation and at odd hours of the night, contrary to navy regulations.

“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,” Apata said.

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).

Subsequently, Switzerland requested that ITLOS order the suspension of Nigeria’s criminal prosecution of the vessel’s master and officers, not to institute new proceedings, and that the cargo, crew, and the vessel be released.

“In its July 6, 2019 order, the 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 Ukrainian 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,” Apata disclosed.

The SGF/PS has 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 Guinea.”

According to him, “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.”

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