Following the recent adjournment of the case between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) on one hand and between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and the Association of Shipping Line Agencies (ASLA) on the other hand, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has advocated the use of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in settling the matters in contention.
Recall that the Court of Appeal in Lagos presided over by Justice Uzoamaka Anyanwu on Thursday adjourned the matters mentioned above to the 4th of February, 2016 for hearing.
The National President of the association, Dr. Eugene Nweke who stated this while reacting to the recent adjournment of the matters by Justice Uzoamaka Anyanwu of the Appeal Court , Lagos pointed out that in the maritime sector globally, arbitration was a more fashionable way of settling disputes adding that most these cases were better settled by way of arbitration mechanism.
Nweke observed that the court processes often take an upwards of six years to adjudicate thus making it a cumbersome process in resolving maritime matters which according to him were mostly business related matters that needed to be dealt with on their own merits.
He said,” Most times, if you follow court process, court may stay on a case for six years and court you know will want to take every measure to ensure that before it delivers a judgment, it will fulfill all righteousness and not to be seen as taking sides when judgment is being passed so that whatever judgment it is giving will stand a test of time and can serve as a reference in the future”.
“So, the court judgment will not just come easily and that is why those of them who are beneficiaries of the system as it were will always depend on court and always find a way of constant adjournment. So, to me, that case is there, we will leave it for the Court, we will not decide for the court. It will go but the court has the right to adjourn the case based on whatever circumstances that permeated within the presiding judge’s purview”.
“Therefore, let us not look at it from that angle but in actual sense, if this case can go by way of arbitration, I believe one year is too much for this case to be thrashed out”.
It will be recalled that both ASLA and STOAN had sued the NSC over the Council’s attempt to slash shipping agency charges and progressive storage charges collected by terminal operators.
On Wednesday October 29, 2014; the NSC published an advertisement announcing the reversal of storage charges at the ports to that which was in force as at 1st May 2009. It also ordered an increase in the free storage period at the port from three days to seven days.
The Council equally directed shipping companies to reduce their shipping line agency charges from N26, 500 to N23, 850 per TEU and from N48,000 to N40,000 per FEU and refund container deposits to importers and agents within 10 working days after the return of the empty containers.
But dissatisfied with the directive, the shipping companies and terminal operators had instituted an action against the NSC at the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos but lost the case in a verdict delivered by Justice Ibrahim Buba on December 17, 2015; prompting the appeal.