*Blockade costing $22 mln a day, quarter of Nigeria budget
*Maritime security agency says NLNG owes $158 mln levies
06 July 2013, LAGOS/LONDON – Nigeria’s federal court has delayed a ruling on a tax dispute between Nigeria’s liquefied natural gas company (NLNG) and the maritime security agency over taxes until Monday, extending a deadlock that is costing $22 million a day in lost gas exports, according to an economist.
Since June 21, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has barred LNG cargoes from entering or leaving the loading bay at the Bonny terminal in the Niger Delta because it says NLNG is not paying a 3 percent levy, from which the NLNG argues it is exempt.
The Parties were in court in Lagos on Friday to try to resolve the dispute over the lawfulness of the blockade and the levies, which NLNG spokesman Kudo Ereia-Eke had earlier said he hoped would be resolved.
The court adjourned the case until Monday.
Nigeria’s state oil firm owns 49 percent of NLNG with Shell holding 25.6 percent, Total 15 percent and Eni 10.4 percent.
LNG accounted for 9 percent of Nigeria’s exports in 2012, said economist Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives, or roughly $8.1 billion a year, a quarter of Nigeria’s federal fiscal budget for 2013.
“That’s about $155 million a week, of which 51 percent belongs to the Nigerian government,” he said. “That is a lot of money to the Finance Ministry.”
NLNG declared force majeure on gas exports on June 28 because of the blockade.
Ereia-Eke declined to give figures for NLNG losses, and finance ministry officials were not immediately available.
NIMASA spokesman Isichei Osamgbi said the agency was seeking cumulative levies of $158 million.
“Our business is not to cause any crisis to the gas sector. We just insist on our dues. Why shouldn’t they pay the levies that are applicable to anybody?” he said.
NLNG argues that the act that established it makes it exempt, but Osamgbi said the exemptions expired after the first year of profit, following a 5-year holiday.
A shipping source said NIMASA already charges LNG tankers $600,000 per berth to load at the NLNG bay, four times higher than the average among the highest fees of any LNG port.
NLNG says a court order was issued on June 18 preventing NIMASA from blockading the port until a resolution was found, but the maritime agency denies that.
Buyers of Nigeria’s LNG include Spain’s Repsol, Italy’s Enel, Britain’s BG Group France’s GDF Suez and Portugal’s Galp.
“Customers of NLNG in Europe and Asia are starting to go into panic mode,” a trading source told Reuters.
*Tim Cocks and Oleg Vukmanovic, Reuters