In 2014, the Nigerian media was flooded with a story about an ill-fated vessel that captured the nation’s attention and even reached the shores of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Sometime in September of that year, a report started trending online, accusing Ecobank, one of Nigeria’s commercial banks, of abandoning a vessel named MT Tumini and its crew in Trinidad and Tobago.
According to the crew, represented by Neil Anderson, Ecobank, whose responsibility was to fund the ship’s operations, owed them wages and refused to provide essential supplies like food, water, or fuel.
In its defense, the bank claimed that a new anti-money laundering law had caused difficulties in transferring the funds. They explained that the financial transaction was initially processed by a junior staff member at Ecobank, who made an error. Furthermore, the person responsible for overseeing the vessel’s affairs for Ecobank was out of Nigeria at the time.
Fast forward to 2019, after six years of living on the abandoned boat off Claxton Bay, the unfortunate Guyanese crew members (Rakesh Jim, Foy Fredericks, Lawrence Daniel, Mohamed Gadwah, and Neil Rampersaud) managed to return to their home country. A company operating in Panama purchased the vessel for US$500,000.
This sale was mandated by Justice Devindra Rampersad, a judge presiding in the Hall of Justice, who had ordered the MT Tumini to be sold within nine months or by private auction. The crew had claimed US$400,000 in unpaid wages.
However, the question arises: how did it become Ecobank’s responsibility in the first place?
According to an investigation by Freelanews, the boat’s local agent, Gerald Andrews, explained that a mortgage agreement between Petroleum Brokers Ltd and Ecobank resulted in the bank becoming MT Tumini’s owner.
Several reports indicated that the bank took possession of the vessel following the death of the owner of Petroleum Brokers Ltd, Tonye Claude-Wilcox, in early 2011.
Claude-Wilcox was a founding member of one of the motorcycling clubs in Lagos and met an unfortunate fate in a bike-related accident while en route to attend a fellow biker’s wedding. The accident occurred near Ihiala in Anambra State.
He had purchased the vessel, originally named Tradewind Sunrise, in December 2008 from V. Ships USA in Florida.
To recover its investment, Ecobank took over the vessel and continued to finance its operations, covering expenses such as fuel, crew wages, dry docking, technical shore services, agency fees, and repairs.
In 2012, the vessel went on anchorage at Claxton Bay, Trinidad, for wet dock repairs, and the bank ceased financing MT Tumini’s operations in 2013.
With time, expenses piled up as the bank sought buyers while the vessel continued to deteriorate, desperately needing repairs.
The bank faced another challenge because MT Tumini was a single-hull vessel, which was known for its spillage vulnerability. Consequently, the vessel could only operate in the Caribbean due to the maritime regulations in place at the time.
Confronted with these liabilities, Ecobank was relieved when a Nigerian company, which offered professional services to the oil and gas sector, stepped in to finance the vessel’s expenses.
It is worth noting that while the bank sought assistance from the company, it is believed that Ecobank may not have fully disclosed the extent of the vessel’s need for repairs.
Hence, the company had to abandon the investment when it could no longer cope with the mounting demands of running the vessel with no business patronages in sight. It was indeed a bad business idea.
Experts raised questions as to why the representative company failed to conduct proper due diligence on the ship and engage a consultant to thoroughly investigate the vessel before taking it over.
As a result, this will go down in history as one of the worst investments ever embarked upon by Ecobank, as both Nigerian companies involved lost millions of dollars forever.