Shipping finance transactions are characterised by peculiar risk factors principally on account of shipping assets' transient operations. The applicable rules and mercantile uses – reflective of this reality themselves – must therefore be adequately factored into financiers' lending procedures and loan recovery strategies, whether they be banks or private investors. This article offers helpful guidance to such lenders.
In a recent ruling concerning a claim for crew wages, the National Industrial Court held that Section 254C(1)(a) of the Constitution clearly vests the court with the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine civil causes and matters relating to or connected with labour, employment, trade unions or industrial relations and matters arising from the workplace. The claim in question was for N500 million in compensation for the defendant's failure to observe safety standards and procedures during a fumigation exercise.
The president recently announced that only cargo vessels which have been at sea for more than 14 days can dock in Nigerian ports. The 14 days referred to by the president will start from the last port of call, which means that vessels trans-shipping in Tema or Cotonou before arriving in Nigeria will be subject to delays of at least 12 days before berthing. However, most shipowners have drafted clauses to excuse themselves and their ship from any liability arising from delays caused by COVID-19.
Persons claiming against ships should be careful to comply with the detailed procedural requirements, otherwise valid claims may be compromised by the additional possibility of liability in damages. Ship interests equally need not go into panic mode on the arrest of the ship. A detailed review of the processes filed for compliance or non-compliance with arrest procedures should be the first step, possibly coupled with other extenuating measures.
A caveat registered in the courts serves to prevent a ship's arrest by committing to pay a bond for any sum claimed against the ship which is equal to or less than the amount stated in the caveat. Entering a caveat against release does not automatically entitle the caveator to the security flowing from a ship in respect of which a caveat has been entered. A request for security can be made only when there is a subsisting claim against the ship in respect of which the caveat is entered.
The general Nigerian economic landscape could be seen as challenging, but its robustness and potential make it worthwhile for parties that do their research. As the Nigerian ship charter market is estimated to be worth at least $10 billion, there is a lot of potential for interested parties to benefit.
The president recently assented to the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Bill, successfully concluding almost a decade of advocacy to implement such a law in order to curb and deter sea piracy, armed robbery and other unlawful acts at sea. The new law has ended the controversy around whether the crime of sea piracy is defined in any local legislation and bestowed on the Federal High Court exclusive jurisdiction to determine matters of armed robbery and other unlawful acts at sea.
Wrecks pose a real danger to navigational safety and the marine environment and their expeditious removal, control and management is therefore a key concern. The issue of wreck control in Nigeria has been the subject of an increasingly fierce conflict between the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the Nigerian Ports Authority.
A tripartite arrangement between the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Customs Service and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) seeks to encourage the expansion of Nigeria's indigenous fleet by creating a special tariff regime for vessel acquisition in the country. According to NIMASA Director General Dakuku Peterside, the high cost of vessel acquisition is gradually driving away many indigenous players in the maritime sector.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency has announced a five-year strategic plan to stop the issuance of cabotage waivers. This plan appears to be a tacit admission that the waiver regime – which was intended to be a stop-gap measure pending the development of indigenous capacity – is derailing the country's lofty cabotage goals. Nonetheless, the cessation of the issuance of cabotage waivers represents a significant shift in policy.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) recently issued a marine notice to further the Cabotage Act's objectives and to ensure strict compliance. It is expected that this notice would, among other things, ensure greater compliance with the cabotage regime and drive wider indigenous participation in offshore marine operations. However, as the NIMASA has not introduced a fine or other punishment for non-compliance, full compliance with the notice cannot be guaranteed.
It is not uncommon for shipowners to incur liability for acts or omissions for which neither they nor their employees are directly responsible. This is particularly common in the compulsory pilotage field. However, even in cases where liability cannot be disputed, shipowners may be entitled to limit their liability or, in some cases, escape it entirely.
In late 2018 the president declined to assent to the National Transport Commission Bill (which the Senate had passed in March 2018). The president cited the need to review certain fiscal provisions set out in the bill, as well as concerns over the duplication of functions which already fell within the statutory mandates of existing agencies. The Senate recently formally reapproved the bill after examining it in view of the president's observations.