The controversial crude oil storage vessel, MT TUMA, towed to Brazil five years ago for engineering overhaul and repairs is finally on its way back to Nigeria.
The Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Austen Oniwon, told Premium Times in an exclusive interview in Abuja on Monday that the vessel, which was a subject of the House of Representatives probe two years ago, commenced the sail back to Lagos penultimate Monday.
“Yes, the vessel has already set sail back to Nigeria,” Mr, Oniwon said.
“I did not want to let the information out yet. I wanted to wait till when it arrives for us to celebrate it together. As at today (Monday), the text message sent to me on its progress shows that it has covered over 1,600 nautical miles from Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its condition is excellent, as it is sailing on its own steam. It is expected that it will arrive Lagos port latest by May 1,” he said.
Built in 1975, MT TUMA, which is about 280 by 41 meters in size, with deadweight capacity of 136,100 tons, is one of Nigeria’s main crude oil storage tankers with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) tag, IMO 7388700, acquired by the government to facilitate the transportation of crude oil within and outside the country.
The vessel, which was first dry-docked in 1998, was due for another dry dock repairs in 2003. However, due to some bureaucratic delays, the repairs were delayed till June 21, 2006 when the vessel, which was laden with petroleum products, suffered extensive damage when its engine room exploded during its berth at the Beachland Estate, Ibafon, Apapa, Lagos.
The explosion was reportedly as a result of a massive leakage of petroleum products, which flooded the engine room for several days.
On May 24, 2007, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, approved the dry dock contract, which was awarded by the NNPC in December 2007 to a Brazilian firm, Sermetal Estaleros Limited, for about $24.115million.
The contract, which was for the general engineering repairs and overhauling, including pre-voyage works/certification, was expected due for completion within 12 months, from December 16, 2007, for the vessel to return to Nigeria.
Two other contracts for “manning and management” as well as consultancy went to Messrs Royal Marine and Spares Limited and Messrs Mare Maritime Limited respectively.
However, the contractor missed the deadline following several breaches in the contract terms, a development that resulted in the vessel’s loss of her classification.
In spite of the failure of the Brazilian firms to deliver on the contract, successive managements at the NNPC continued pumping more money in hard currency running into several billions of dollars to service the contract to keep the engine of the vessel running throughout the five years it anchored in the dockyard in Brazil.
At a point, it was gathered that the vessel could only be towed as it junketed from one dockyard to another, as the engine parts were reportedly dismembered, rendering it incapable of sailing on its own.
In April 2009, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement carried out a probe into suspected irregularities in the award of the contract following reports that the NNPC did not follow due process as spelt out in the provisions of the Public Procurement Act.
The lawmakers, who were also concerned about NNPC’s lack of the requisite capacity to manage a vessel the size of MT TUMA, recommended in their report its immediate sale whenever she returns to Nigeria.
“On completion of the dry-dock repairs, MT TUMA should be sold through international competitive bidding to interested buyers, or she should be incorporated as a limited liability company and handed over to a competitively selected reputable international ship managers on the most favourable terms to the country,” the report said.
Mr. Oniwon could however not confirm if his management was still going ahead with the lawmakers’ recommendation to put up the vessel for sale when she arrives Lagos ports on May 1.