Voyaging in West African waters, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, is considered dangerous and raises the question of whether shipowners are entitled to put armed guards on board their vessels to protect them from attacks by arms-bearing third parties. Considering reported attacks of armed robbers at sea, kidnappings for ransom and other criminal occurrences in Nigerian waters, shipowners and operators have explored how to optimise the protection of both ships and cargo.
Shipowners whose ships have caused damage will not want their ship to be arrested, but also will not want to pay damages to the extent of the actual claim. Luckily, shipowners can ensure that their ships are not arrested and at the same time significantly limit the total amount payable. To cap it all off, shipowners do not have to accept liability. If this is not having your cake and eating it, then nothing is.
In a watershed decision, the Supreme Court appears to have overruled itself on the question of what constitutes 'outside jurisdiction' in relation to the Admiralty Court (Federal High Court) for the purpose of determining whether leave of court is required to effect service of an originating process. The decision puts to bed the decade-long unease surrounding the territorial jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court in the wake of MV Arabella.
Following the Federal High Court's recent ruling that claims for crew wages fall outside its jurisdiction, practitioners and other observers are understandably eager for judicial elaboration on the fate of such claims. Although initial reactions appear to be that crew wage claims may no longer be enforceable through the adoption of the in rem procedure, some have argued that the ruling, being merely persuasive, can and should be sidestepped by other Federal High Court judges.
Maritime claims are generally under the Federal High Court's exclusive jurisdiction and enforceable by an admiralty action in rem or in personam. However, in a decision which portends significant implications for Nigeria's maritime jurisprudence, the court recently held that a claim for crew wages fell outside its jurisdiction.