By Louis Iba
There were strong indications at the weekend that the Federal Government may have ordered oil and gas firms operating in the country to terminate existing contracts with Bristow Helicopters. But the decision appears not to have gone down well with aviation labour unions and other stakeholders.
Bristow in a statement made available to Daily Sun said a number of its clients (notably oil and gas firms engaged in offshore and deep offshore oil drilling activities) had written to notify of fresh directives by the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) requesting to terminate their contracts with Bristow’s services.
NAPIMS, a subsidiary of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), manages all contracts and assets in the oil and gas sector on behalf of the Nigerian government.
Last month, the government through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had ordered Bristow to halt the further use of its Sikoorsky S-76 helicopters in the country pending the conclusion of a safety audit.
Both sanctions, it was learnt, had been undertaken by the government in a bid to save the lives of citizens following repeated accidents and incidences involving Bristow Helicopters, which had also claimed the lives of Nigerians.
The most recent was the February 3 incident where the aircraft was ditched into the Atlantic Ocean to save the lives of 11 passengers on board.
A statement by the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), yesterday, demanded that President Muhammadu Buhari should intervene as it was improper for an oil and gas regulator to issue directive to Bristow clients to terminate contracts when an audit by an internationally reputed firm done at the instance of the NCAA was ongoing.
Bristow is a United States of America-owned helicopter charter company and Nigeria currently carries Cat-I status, a US safety certification on airports. And the union warned that actions by Nigeria, which appear to be breaching international best practices, could jeopardisse Nigeria’s Cat-I status in the future.
“NAPIMS is only but a corporate services unit of the Exploration and Production Directorate of the NNPC and has no power to act instead of the regulator, NCAA,” said Benjamin Okewu, ATSSSAN President.
ATSSSAN advised NAPIMS not to use the unfortunate situation of the crash or ditching to play the politics of diverting Bristow contracts to other parties where they seemed to have vested interest in the name of safety as it is too early to make such conclusion.
“Mr. President sir, call the management of NAPIMS to order before they deprive us of our hard earned FAA Category 1 status. They have no knowledge, technicality and authority in the matter, which they are issuing directives. We must await the final report and decision of the NCAA audit and directives on the matter,” he added.
Bristow in a statement yesterday said, “we have engaged the authority (NAPIMS) and other government officials on the matter. We are in full compliance of all NCAA regulatory requirements and Sikorsky operating directives, and continue to fully cooperate with the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) in their investigation into the event of February 3, 2016.
“We are engaging an independent third party to conduct an additional review of Bristow’s operations in Nigeria, with the expectation that such initiative will also extend to include the review of other similar entities across the Nigerian oil and gas industry, so that best practices can be shared laterally across all operators to further enhance safety,” the statement added.