Plaintiffs Appeal Judgment
A Federal High Court in Lagos has dismissed the prayer of the Sea Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and Association of Shipping Line Agencies (ASLA) to stop the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) from tampering with the terminal and shipping line charges in the port as the Court also affirmed the appointment of the NSC as the economic regulator of the ports.
The plaintiffs have since obtained an injunction restraining the Council from carrying out the court judgment while they have also appealed the judgment.
The court presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, dismissed the claims of shipping companies and the terminal operators and granted the counter claims of the NSC.
Buba said the President of the nation had the power under Section 5 of the Nigerian Constitution to appoint the Shippers’ Council as the port regulator.
The Judge held that the shipping Line Agency Charges (SLAC) levied and collected from Nigerian shippers by the shipping companies since 2006 was illegal.
He added that the shipping companies should account and pay to Nigerian shippers all monies or fees charged and collected since 2006 as SLAC from shippers or users of shipping and port related services from 2006 to date which run into trillions of naira.
The Judge ordered that the refund of SLAC collected since 2006 should be accounted for and paid to the Cargo Defence Fund, a department under the NSC, for the benefit of the shippers.
He said they should apply the number of days directed by NSC as the free storage period which is seven days on containers.
The Judge said all the increase in charges effected by Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) from 2009 till date which were over and above the rate approved for them by the Minister of Transport on progressive storage charges on containerised goods should be cancelled.
Recall that the NSC had issued notices to both the shipping companies and terminal operators to reverse all illegal charges levied on Nigerian shippers pursuant to the appointment of the NSC as the Economic Regulator of the Nigerian ports by the President
However, the parties involved in the suits are: the Association of Shipping Line Agencies, Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), who are plaintiffs while the NSC is the first defendant and Shippers’ Association Lagos State is the second defendants.
The NSC, as the port economic regulator, ordered an increase in the number of free storage days
The council equally directed shipping companies to reduce their shipping line agency fees from N26, 500 to N23, 850 per 20 ft container and from N48,000 to N40, 000 per 40ft container.
The directive by NSC also stated that shipping agencies are to refund container deposits to importers and agents within 10 working days after the return of empty containers.
Pursuant to its appointment, the NSC issued Notices to both the shipping companies and Terminal operators to reverse all illegal charges levied on Nigerian shippers.
Dissatisfied, the shipping companies and the Terminal Operators, filed separate suits to stop the move of the NSC.
However, speaking with journalists, Counsel to SALS, Barrister Osuala Nwagbara stated that the court decision had
set Nigerian importers and exporters free from the captivity of the terminal Operators and shipping line agencies
He said that there would no longer be abnormal or excessive charges in the Nigerian maritime community.
According to Nwagbara, “This judgment is quite significant to the Nigerian maritime industry because it gives hope for the Nigerian importers and this is just the beginning of the battle that Nigerian importers are to fight.
“It is significant to the industry and it is a sign and warning to all those we engage themselves in any form of illegality in the Nigerian ports system to adjust before the long hand of the law catches up with them.”
The Counsel to the first defendant, Emeka Akabogu said the judgment would bring a great relief to the shippers, adding that the cargoes hitherto diverted to neighboring West African countries would gradually find their ways back to Nigeria as a result of the court ruling.
He said that the ruling would bring more revenue generation for the Nigerian government as well as halting the outrage of the shipping companies and terminal operators.
The lawyer added that the verdict of the court is a landmark achievement to the maritime sector.
However, Counsels to STOAN and ASLA, have obtained an order for stay of execution of the ruling of the court on reduction of shipping line agency charges (SLAC) and the refund of container deposits for ASLA and reduction in progressive storage charges and increase in free storage days for terminal operators.
Both associations have also filed notices of appeal against the Federal High Court judgment.