By Ifeyinwa Obi
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has found a foreign vessel, MT Lovell Sea, guilty of contravening provisions ofÂ the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act otherwiseÂ known as the Cabotage ActÂ ofÂ 2003.
Justice Okechukwu Okeke ofÂ Â the Federal High Court, while delivering his judgementÂ inÂ a suit filed by the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), said that the 30,000 metric tons tanker vessel and its owners violatedÂ the Cabotage Act and ordered the defendants to pay N10 million as damages to ISAN.
ISAN arrested MT Lovell Sea in August 2009 for breaching the Cabotage Act and dragged it,Â its captain and owners before the Federal High Court in Lagos. The plaintiffs, ISAN and an indigenous shipping company, Pokat Nigeria Limited, accused MT Lovell Sea, a 30,000-metric ton tanker vessel, its owners Lovell Sea Carriers Incorporated and the ship master ofÂ Â Â liftingÂ petroleum products illegallyÂ on Nigeriaâ€™s coastal waters. Justice Okeke had ordered that the ship be detained at Ibafon jetty pending the determination ofÂ Â the case.
Speaking on the ruling, Director General of ISAN, Ms FunmiÂ Folorunsho, describedÂ theÂ rulingÂ as a victory forÂ the Cabotage Act. â€œThis is a true test of t he Cabotage Law and this is a landmark judgement. ItÂ is a victory for the maritime administration, NIMASA, as well as the indigenous ship owners and of course all the apostles ofÂ Â Â the development ofÂ Â Â an effective indigenous tonnageâ€, Folorunsho said.
The ISAN boss also disclosed that the association has instituted necessary measures to ensure that all indigenous vessels are in class and are in good shape to perform all forms of contract within the nationâ€™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 lostÂ the case against one ofÂ Â the vessels, MT Makhambet, as the same court last year threw out the case brought by it and Pokat Nigeria against MBX Shipping Limited, a foreign company based in St. Vincent andÂ Â The Grenades for using its vessel MT Makhambet for trading on NigerianÂ Â waters.
ISAN and Pokat Nigeria had accused MBX Shipping Limited of contravening the Cabotage ActÂ 2003, which exclusively reserves the right of carriage of goods and persons within Nigerian Coastal watersÂ 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 onboard the ship was loaded in Cotonou, Benin Republic undermining the fact that there is no refinery in Cotonou to the best of his knowledge.
Okeke, who later picked holes in the Cabotage Act, called on operators 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.