In a recent ruling concerning a claim for crew wages, the National Industrial Court held that Section 254C(1)(a) of the Constitution clearly vests the court with the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine civil causes and matters relating to or connected with labour, employment, trade unions or industrial relations and matters arising from the workplace. The claim in question was for N500 million in compensation for the defendant's failure to observe safety standards and procedures during a fumigation exercise.
The president recently announced that only cargo vessels which have been at sea for more than 14 days can dock in Nigerian ports. The 14 days referred to by the president will start from the last port of call, which means that vessels trans-shipping in Tema or Cotonou before arriving in Nigeria will be subject to delays of at least 12 days before berthing. However, most shipowners have drafted clauses to excuse themselves and their ship from any liability arising from delays caused by COVID-19.
Persons claiming against ships should be careful to comply with the detailed procedural requirements, otherwise valid claims may be compromised by the additional possibility of liability in damages. Ship interests equally need not go into panic mode on the arrest of the ship. A detailed review of the processes filed for compliance or non-compliance with arrest procedures should be the first step, possibly coupled with other extenuating measures.
A caveat registered in the courts serves to prevent a ship's arrest by committing to pay a bond for any sum claimed against the ship which is equal to or less than the amount stated in the caveat. Entering a caveat against release does not automatically entitle the caveator to the security flowing from a ship in respect of which a caveat has been entered. A request for security can be made only when there is a subsisting claim against the ship in respect of which the caveat is entered.
The general Nigerian economic landscape could be seen as challenging, but its robustness and potential make it worthwhile for parties that do their research. As the Nigerian ship charter market is estimated to be worth at least $10 billion, there is a lot of potential for interested parties to benefit.