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Topaz fight to overturn 'arrest' of three vessels in Nigeria, $9m law suit

Topaz fight to overturn 'arrest' of three vessels in Nigeria, $9m law suit
Topaz Energy and Marine expect a “prompt resolution” to a dispute with a disgruntled business partner in Nigeria which has been granted a High Court injunction freezing the movement of three Topaz vessels as it seeks $9m in damages for an alleged breach of contract.

Nigerian media have reported the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State and the centre of the country’s oil industry, ordered the “arrest” of Topaz PSVs Amani and Seema (both 32,000dwt) and crew boat Breeze on August 17.

The ex-parte motion – essentially a restraining order - was filed by Cutra International Ltd against Dubai-headquartered Topaz Energy and Marine Ltd as first respondent and subsidiary Topaz Marine Nigeria Ltd, the reports said.

Justice Ibrahim Watila subsequently granted a Mareva Injunction, freezing the assets from trading in or leaving Nigerian waters “pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit” and adjourned the case until September 9.

However, Seatrade Maritime News has learned Topaz is to appear in court today seeking the release of two of the vessels given that their value far out weights the $9m damages claim by Cutra International. It will then return on September 9 to defend the plaintiff’s allegations and seek the release of the third vessel.

“Topaz confirms that three vessels have, through an injunction, been restricted from moving out of and trading in Nigeria by the High Court in Port Harcourt, Nigeria,” a Topaz spokesman told Seatrade Maritime News.

“This is in conjunction with a law suit arising from a business dispute in Nigeria. Topaz has applied for the injunction to be set aside and is confident of a positive outcome in the very near future and remains committed to Nigeria, and the West Africa region.”

Topaz reiterated the court case would have no bearing on the company’s commitment to operations in Nigeria or elsewhere in West Africa where it has a number of outstanding tenders for work in the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

“We believe that Africa presents a great long term opportunity and in the short term, every market has been affected by the oversupply of OSVs and the lack of demand or the deferral of capital projects. That’s not exclusive to Africa. Now, Africa does have its own problems of course, the regime change in Nigeria and a lot of those kind of things affected the business climate as well,” the Topaz spokesperson said.

“But no, Africa has a lot of oil that they need to get out of the ground and we’d like to be there to assist that.”

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Topaz has six vessels currently deployed under its Africa arm where it operates out of Nigeria and Angola with a workforce of 237 offshore and 27 onshore staff according to its 2015 annual report. Energy major Total is Topaz’s biggest client in Nigeria.

However, the dramatic drop in oil and gas activity in West Africa has seen Topaz cull its African fleet by half since last year on utilization rates of just 44%, including four AHTSVs which were redeployed to Mena and Caspian Sea operations.

Revenue from Africa fell by 25% to $28.9min in 2015 and the challenges have continued into 2016 with a $2.1m, or 19.1%, decrease in revenue to $8.9 million for the first half compared to $11m for the corresponding period last year.

“Our Mena and Africa regions have had a challenging six months as the Mena market moves increasingly to spot rate contracts and our clients reduce or delay investment in the West Africa offshore market,” ceo René Kofod-Olsen said at the time.