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General News of Thursday, 3 April 2003

Source: GNA

Missing oil vessel seized by owners - Minister

The oil vessel that disappeared over the weekend at the Saltpond Oil Fields is reported to have been seized by its owners in Nigeria, Mr Albert Kan-Dapaah, out-going Minster of Energy, announced on Thursday in Accra.

The storage vessel, MT Asterias I was alleged to have gone missing with 73,701 barrels of crude oil worth two million dollars which had accumulated since trial production began in June last year at the Saltpond Oil Fields.

Mr Kan-Dapaah told the press that a Reuters news report on Thursday said the Nigerian company, Ocean & Oil Limited, which seized the vessel, said the cargo was impounded as a way of security for non-payment of freight charges and interest due them.

He said the Ghana National Petroleum Company (GNPC) also on Tuesday received a copy of a letter that said the charter company owns the vessel owners an amount of 1,915,428.61 dollars.

He said Mr Paul Okoloko, Managing Director of Ocean & Oil Limited, in a statement faxed to Reuters, said they took that action after the chatterers, Lushann International Energy Incorporated of USA, failed to respond to a final demand notice for payment.

The report said, "The chatterers had failed to make any payment for the hire of the vessel in the last seven months."

The Minister said the crude oil that had been taken away belonged to a joint venture including GNPC, which had 40 per cent interest, Lushann International and the Saltpond Offshore Producing Company Limited (SOPCL).

He said had the oil been properly disposed of through the joint venture, the SOPCL would have received funds to meet its operational and production expenses including the servicing of loans obtained by the company for the payment of royalties of three per cent of the gross value of 60,000 dollars to the government.

Mr Kan-Dapaah said the government was mindful of the potential criminal nature of the incident.

He said when the matter was brought into the public domain by the initial press statement, a conscious decision was taken to recognise the need to avoid interfering with the due process of investigations.

He explained that the oil field was first discovered in 1970 by Signal/Amoco Group and developed and put into production in 1978.

He said the field was shut in 1985 when production declined and the platform (rig) named "Mr Louie" that was used in the production was left at the location to be decommissioned.

He said when the new government came to office, it noticed that the charter company was not giving Ghana any royalties, carried interests, training allowances and annual surface rentals which were mandatory under the petroleum laws of Ghana.

He said new agreements were later made with the charter company, which agreed to subject their agreement to the appropriate prerequisites. A draft Petroleum Agreement incorporating terms that favoured Ghana had been negotiated pending Cabinet approval.

The Minister cautioned the media as well as the public to be circumspect when commenting on matters concerning the missing vessel for investigations to take their full course.

Meanwhile the government had tasked the Attorney -General to commence action to place a temporary lien on Lushann's assets in Ghana.