Liberia: Eco Fuel Accuses Srimex of ‘Hijacking’ Petroleum Storage Terminal

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Monrovia – Eco Fuel FZE has accused Srimex of hijacking its Petroleum Storage Terminal at the Freeport of Monrovia.

According to Eco Fuel, it has invested about US$25 million in Foreign Direct Investment to build a much needed modern Petroleum Storage Terminal in Liberia which has now been reportedly hijacked by  Srimex Oil and Gas.

The facility was been built over the course of a year to the highest of international standards using the most modern of equipment and techniques.  

Liberian staff were accordingly trained to international standards, enabling them to use their skills in Liberia and other countries. They have been certified in terminal operations and firefighting systems with international accreditation.  

Even during the course of the first year partial operation the terminal has paid  more than a million United States Dollars in tax and royalties to the Liberian Government.  

The facility brings much needed foreign investment for the country, fuel storage for the petroleum industry and modern skills and jobs for Liberians.  

The facility was closed down for the last few months due to a land dispute over the ownership of the land the terminal is built upon.  

This dispute, still in the court and as yet not ruled upon took a sudden turn prior to Christmas when the operators, the Liberian Petroleum Storage Company (LPSC) was said to have dispossessed of the terminal and has not been allowed back in since that time.  

Srimex Oil and Gas with the full support of LPRC, the government storage company and authorizing body for the petroleum industry, have now taken over and are operating the storage facility.  This is despite a court order declaring that the site is not to be operated and both LPRC and Srimex being fully aware of this fact.  

Over the Christmas Holiday LPRC reportedly facilitated a ship, MT Nordic Lynx, to discharge fuel into the terminal being illegally Operated by Srimex Oil and Gas. A company that has no staff trained in the terminal’s safe operation, no fire-fighting staff and no operating license for the facility.  

Despite a court order stating that the terminal cannot be operated Srimex reportedly made modifications to the facility and loaded fuel into the tanks with the full knowledge of LPRC.  

The essence of Srimex’s suit is that it (Srimex) has the exclusive right to possess and use the land on which the Terminal was built in accordance with a lease agreement Srimex entered into with the NPA that holds title to the land. Eco Fuel, in its response to the suit, acknowledges the NPA Lease between Srimex and NPA, but states that Srimex subsequently transferred the NPA Lease to Eco Fuel by way of an Assignment of Lease by Novation (Novation and Substitution Agreement) between Srimex and Eco Fuel, as well as the NPA and the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC).  The NPA have filed an affidavit in response to the Srimex Suit, confirming the statement of Eco Fuel that Srimex assigned by novation all its rights and interest under the NPA lease to Eco Fuel. Copies of the Novation Agreement have been provided to the court and were put in records of the suit by both Eco Fuel and the NPA.

Along with its Petition for Declaratory Judgment, Srimex applied for Eco Fuel to be prohibited from entering and operating the Terminal until court hearing and judgement. 

The application of Srimex was granted by the court, which thereby issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against an indemnity injunction bond of US$8.0 Million posted by Srimex. In keeping with Liberian law and practice, Eco Fuel moved to vacate the injunction/TRO by filing the requisite papers and also posting a counter indemnity bond of US$8.0 Million. 

The trial court approved Eco Fuel’s bond, but refused to vacate its earlier injunction. Eco Fuel was therefore compelled to apply for a Writ of Mandamus which was granted, thus vacating the injunction against Eco Fuel and placing them back in possession of the Terminal.

Through manipulation of established judicial procedural practice, the earlier injunction granted Srimex against Eco Fuel was reinstated and Eco Fuel remained prohibited from operating the Terminal pending the hearing and disposition of Eco Fuel’s appeal by the Supreme Court of Liberia. 

This appeal only concerns and relates to the Chambers Justice reversing her colleague to reinstate the TRO.  Significantly, the lower court and Srimex have interpreted the reinstatement of the TRO to mean that Srimex may occupy and operate the Terminal, although it is very clear that an injunction does not dispossess one party to possess another.  This fact has been brought to the attention of the Supreme Court for its determination together with the pending appeal.

Currently, Eco Fuel management and staff are being prevented access to the Terminal, they are therefore unable to ensure the safe status of the terminal.  Srimex are attempting to operate the Terminal with personnel who have no knowledge or training in the workings of the Terminal’s operational, safety and firefighting equipment, they are not licensed to operate this facility and have no legal right to use any equipment and in using the buildings and tanks on site are in direct contravention of a court order. 

In doing so, they could endanger their lives and also the operation of the Freeport of Monrovia and the residents of the Westpoint community situated close to the terminal.  

LPRC is said to be assisting in this action by blocking Eco Fuel’s staff from making the facility safe and trying to ensure no catastrophic accidents occur.  LPRC is said to be further assisting Srimex in their such actions by assisting in discharging ships to the tanks and stopping any other organizations form getting near the LPSC Terminal, accessed via a gate manned by LPRC personnel.

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