The chief of naval staff has claimed that the recently promulgated Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons in Nigeria's Maritime Environment 2016 (HSOPs) will provide consolidated guidance for the harmonious management of the arrest, detention and prosecution of vessels and suspects, as well as seizure and forfeiture. However, despite the fanfare that accompanied their launch, the HSOPs have no legal potency or operational clarity.
Various questions can arise regarding the service of processes in admiralty proceedings. For example, what happens if a ship (X) is named as the first defendant in a writ of summons, along with a second defendant which is merely referred to as the "owner of X"? Does the action cease to be one in rem? Further, where X is a foreign ship, is leave of court required to effect service on the second defendant? Although a recent Court of Appeal decision is instructive in this regard, it was arguably reached per incuriam.
Maritime claims arise in relation to the ownership, possession, mortgage and general operation of a ship and are primarily enforced by an admiralty action in rem or in personam. Admiralty actions do not last forever; rather, they have prescribed limitation periods, which often vary depending on the type of claim. Thus, if a claim is not brought within the time prescribed by the relevant law or contract, a party with an otherwise valid claim will generally lose its right of action on that claim.
Where a bill of lading holder fails to take delivery within a reasonable time, the carrier may be entitled to land and store the goods at the cost of the bill of lading holder. This common-sense position accords perfectly with the Bill of Lading Act 1856. Although conversion claims based on the creation of unauthorised liens on cargo are maintainable against carriers, cargo holders should remember that this is the case only in specific circumstances.
In a recent Court of Appeal case, the appellant terminal operators challenged the Nigerian Shippers' Council's powers to review local storage charges unilaterally. The judgment gives further judicial impetus to the government's policy intent, particularly with regard to storage operations at the nation's ports. However, it conflicts with an earlier decision by the same court concerning the Nigerian Shippers' Council's role as the economic regulator of the Nigerian ports.