In what has been described as a victory for the cabotage act, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has found a foreign vessel, MT Lovell sea, guilty of contravening provisions of the coastal and Inland shippering act otherwise known as cabotage Act 2003.
While delivering judgement in a snit field by the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court, said that the 30,000 metric tons tanker vessel and its owners violated the cabotage Act and ordered the defendants to pay N10 million as damages to ISAN.
It will be recalled that ISAN arrested MT Lovell sea in August 2009 for breaching the cabotage act and dragged the vessel, its captain and owners before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The plaintiffs, ISAN and an indigenous shopping company, Pokat Nigeria Limited, accused MT Lovella Sea, a 30,000 metric tone tanker vessel, its owners Lovell sea carriers incorporated and the ship master of lifting petroleum products illegally on Nigeria’s coastal waters.
Justice Okeke had ordered that the ship be detained at Ibafon jetty pending the determination of the cast. “This is a true test of the cabotage law and this is a landmark judgement. It is a victory for the Maritime administration, NIMASA, as well as the indigenous ship owners and of course all the apostles of the development of an effective indigenous tonnage”, the director general of ISAN, Ms Funmi Folorunsho, said while speaking on the ruling, describing it as a victory for cabotage act.
The ISAN boss also disclosed that the association as instituted necessary measures to ensure that indigenous vessels are in class and are in good shape to perform all forms of contract within the nation’s coastal waters.
MT Lovell Sea is one of the six foreign vessels arrested by ISAN between August and September last year for breaching the cabotage law. The association lost the cast against one of the vessel MT Makhambet, as the same court last year threw out the case brought by it and Pokat Nigeria Limited against MBX shipping limited, a foreign company based in St Vincent and the Grenades using its vessel MT Makhambet for trading in Nigerian waters.
ISAN and Pokat Nigeria had accused MBX Shipping Limited of contravening the cabotage act 2003, which exclusively reserves the right of carriage of goods and persons within Nigerian coastal waters for only Nigerian flagged ships. Ruling on the Makhambet case, Okeke stated that given the evidence submitted to the court by the plaintiffs and defendant the ship did not breach the act since the product on board the ship was loaded in Contonou, Benin Republic undermining the fact that there is no refinery in Contonou to the best of his knowledge.
Okeke who later picked holes in the cabotage act called on operations 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.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, ISAN asked its counsel, Mike Igbokwe (SAN) to file an appeal at the court of appeal.