Cabotage Sabotage: Ship owners drag Transport Minister to court

Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba, acting on the instructions of the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) and the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS) has served the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, notice commence a legal action against the Ministry of Transportation over the failure of the latter to implement provisions of the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act of 2003 otherwise known as the Cabotage Law.

Agbakoba’s letter, which was sighted by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, is dated January 13, 2014 and titled RE: NOTICE OF INTENTION TO INSTITUTE COURT ACTION – ENFORCEMENT OF CABOTAGE.

The letter reads in part: “We represent the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS) and other major stakeholders in the shipping sector (‘Our Clients’) and give you immediate notice of our client’s instruction to our firm to commence a legal action against the Ministry of Transportation.

“As the regulator in the sector the Ministry is responsible for safety and security, cabotage enforcement, revenue generation and protection of indigenous ship owner’s interest in Nigeria’s shipping sector.

“Our Clients’ individual and collective businesses have been affected by the proliferation of foreign owned vessels operating in Nigeria, in violation of the Coastal and Inland Waterways (Cabotage) Act. 2003.”

Meanwhile, there are indications that the indigenous ship owners intend to start arresting vessels operating illegally on the nation’s coastal waters.

Agbakoba said in his letter to the Minister that ISAN “will embark upon and take immediate steps to impede the entry of foreign vessels operating without legal authority in Nigeria’s coastal and inland waters.”

ISAN had embarked on a similar action in 2009 when it arrested and prosecuted a ship known as MT Lovell Sea. ISAN had arrested MT Lovell Sea in August 2009 for breaching the Cabotage Act and dragged it, its captain and owners before the Federal High Court in Lagos. The plaintiffs, ISAN and an indigenous shipping company, Pokat Nigeria Limited, accused MT Lovell Sea, a 30,000-metric ton tanker vessel, its owners, Lovell Sea Carriers Incorporated and the ship master of lifting petroleum products illegally on Nigeria’s coastal waters.

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has found the foreign vessel guilty of contravening provisions of the Cabotage Act and ordered it to pay N10 million damages to ISAN.

Justice Okechukwu Okeke, while delivering his judgement in the suit filed by ISAN in February 2010 said that the vessel and its owners violated the Cabotage Act.

ISAN also arrested and obtained detention order for five other foreign vessels, mostly of Greek origin, trading illegally on Nigeria’s waters between August and September 2009

Okeke, while presiding over a separate suit involving ISAN and one of the foreign ships, picked holes in the Cabotage Act, called on operators in the shipping sector to prevail on the National Assembly for an amendment of the Act to enable the judiciary resolve future cases bothering on the Act in the future.

Early last month, an indigenous shipping company, Polmaz Nigeria Limited, also instituted a court action against the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) over poor implementation of the Cabotage Act. The case is still pending at the Federal High Court in Lagos.