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Battle over fishing vessel
Court orders witness to produce sample bill of sale

By Ivy Benson | Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Accra Fast Track High Court hearing a suit between two Russian investors and their Ghanaian partners over the ownership rights of a fishing vessel, "MV DIANA III" has ordered a witness, the Registrar of Ships, to make available to the court, samples of a bill of sale in his custody to ascertain the genuineness of the document on which the vessel was registered.

The court, presided over by Justice Baffour-Bonnie, gave the order when it appeared that there is misunderstanding regarding the genuineness of the bill of sale used in registering the vessel.

While counsel for the Russians, Ashot Melkoumyan and Karen Israelyan, noted that the bill of sale on the vessel, issued by the original sellers, Las Manio of Italy had a seal embossed on it, the one used in registering the vessel in Ghana had no seal from the transferor.

Led in evidence by Mrs. Justina Tete-Donkor, counsel for the Russians, the witness, Mr. Eugene Ofei Boohene who is also a shipping superintendent at the shipping navigation department of the Ministry of Port, Habours and Railways admitted that the bill of sale used in the registration of the vessel was incomplete.

The bill of sale presented for the registration of the vessel had no seal of Las Manio, the company that sold the vessel embossed on it, he told the court on Wednesday.

According to Mr. Boohene, the registration of ships was based on trust and in this regard it was believed that an agreement had been reached between its owners more especially, when the bill of sale was made in the presence of a commissioner of oath.

Witness indicated that the fishing vessel was duly registered on July 26, 2002, when the required documentations were met in accordance with the shipping act.

The bill of sale was issued in Ghana and not the country of origin of the vessel, he said which confirmed the ownership of the vessel to be a Ghanaian.

Even though witness admitted that it was a requirement to de-register a vessel in its country of origin before issuing a new registration in its new country, his outfit did not get the de-registration because the fishing business was based on trust.

"I believed that there was trust in complying with administrative works on the vessel", witness said.

Cross examined by Mr. D.K. Ameley, counsel for Armeen Kassardjan, the Ghanaian partner, witness told the court that it was a requirement of the shipping act that interested parties in a vessel operating in the country should be a 100% Ghanaian ownership.

Mr. Boohene also indicated that a vessel could not sail without any identification since it is against the laws governing the shipping industry.

He told the court that a provisional certificate was required to be issued for a short period by the country of origin to enable it sail until the new ownership of the vessel was completed.

He said a certificate indicating that the name and a new number had been carved on the vessel, was issued on July, 26 2002, adding that since that day "MV DIANA III" had been flying the Ghana flag as an identification.

Witness told the court that it was against the law for a vessel registered in Ghana to sail without a national identity.

The two Russians on one side and Armeen Kassardjan, director of Shangri-La Hotel on the other side, are in tussle over the ownership of the fishing vessel as a result of which they filed the counter suits. The vessel has been docked in Ghana with about 15 crewmembers on board since a year ago.

Issues to be considered by the court include the administrative lapses that had engulfed the operations of the fishing vessel by GAAS Fisheries Company formed by the partners to administer the vessel and the genuineness of documents of the shareholding structure.

The two parties consented to operate a fishing vessel, after Kassardjan had sold the idea to the Russian investors, who had come to the country to explore business opportunities.

The investors agreed to contribute the vessel, while their Ghanaian partner, Kassardjan was to handle all the legal requirements to enable the operations of the vessel take off in Ghana.

The parties then established GAAS fisheries to manage the vessel and appointed another Ghanaian, Alhaji Samir Kahi as the managing director of the fishing company.

The investors later saw that the ownership of the company had been altered with Kassardjan allotted the highest shareholding in the company without the consent of the partners.

In their suits, both parties are claiming ownership of the vessel and damages as well as an order for an account to be rendered on the operations of the vessel on its expeditions so far.

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