In a major boost to the campaign for increased efficiency in shipping operations, the Lagos judicial division of the Federal High Court has upheld the claims of a consignee, Skelas Limited, whose cargo was misplaced by the carrier (Maersk Line) and delivered five months after its estimated delivery date under the contract of carriage.
Skelas Limited, owned by the immediate past President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu had also been assessed Shipping Line Agency Charge (SLAC) by the shipping agents.
In her judgment which was delivered yesterday by Hon. Justice C.M.A. Olatoregun-Ishola upheld the arguments of the Plaintiff’s counsel, Mr. Emeka Akabogu and held that a carrier who has been negligent in the performance of his duties under the contract of carriage cannot rely on the exclusion and limitation clauses in the bill of lading to shield itself from any liability arising thereunder.
The court also granted a declaration that the Shipping Line Agency Charge was illegal and extortionist, same not being an approved head of tariff chargeable by the shipping companies in Nigeria.
The court further held that a shipper does not have to show evidence of payment of SLAC to become entitled to challenge its legality. The mere inclusion of SLAC as a head of charge in the proforma invoice issued by a shipping company is by itself, illegal.
The court awarded damages in the sum of N5.5m in favour of the Plaintiff.
The decision of the Federal High Court is a boost to an industry-wide call for improved efficiency in shipping operations.
Cargo owners are estimated to lose more than N25b annually from delivery related incidents including damage, loss and delay.
The decision also tows the line of an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Alraine Shipping Agencies & Others v The Nigerian Shippers’ Council & Anor. where their Lordships not only prohibited the collection of SLAC declaring same illegal but also ordered the account of all monies collected as SLAC by shipping companies from 2006.
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