THERE are moves by United Nations to bring about a unified maritime law that will definitely change the face of the international shipping community. In this interview with Godwin Oritse of Sweetcrude, the Director Legal services of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council Mr. Hassan Bello said that the unified law will put the cargo owner at an advantageous position when it becomes effective.
Before now, there was the Hague and the Hamburg rules that govern international shipping what do we expect from the proposed unified maritime law?
Before now were had two diametrically opposed legal framework covering the carriage of goods by sea, the Hague Rules which was crafted by carrier nations or ship owning nations in the 1920s.
There was also the Hamburg Rules which was a reaction to the Hague Rules and it was designed to favour cargo owning nations purportedly.
So we have two opposing conventions and this is detrimental to the conduct of international law, international thrives when the procedures and regulations are uniform.
When we have different sets of rules in Nigeria, India and England then there will be chaos.
There is a need to harmonize a unifying law so that we have the same applicable throughout the carriage
Now, it was a reaction to this that the Rotterdam Rules were put together and right from that moment Nigeria played a very important role in the negotiation process – negotiation that Nigeria and indeed Africa’s interest will be protected in the new convention.
Nigeria led the African group during negotiations in Vienna and New York.
By and large, the new convention reflects the interest of developing countries because there had to be some compromise.
During negotiation, we could not get all that we wanted but there were so important milestones achievements we recorded for the example, the limit of liability which is more than all what the convention offers, we have the limit of liability, we have the time for suit, but even more than that the Rotterdam Rules is a modern convention, modern in the sense that the Hague Rules of 1924 Hamburg Rules of 1978, these are outdated conventions, they cannot take care of modern trend in international law so there is gap.
The Rotterdam Rules covers all that has to do with door to door delivery of cargo.
Before you have to come to the port and clear your goods but that concept is becoming obsolete.
With the Rotterdam Rules, people can take delivery of their goods at the door step of their warehouses from anywhere in the world.
The two previous conventions were merely maritime conventions, so you find out that they are restricted to the sea but the Rotterdam Rules, apart from being a maritime convention, it is maritime-plus that means it will also take care of other modes of transportation as long as the first leg involves the sea.
So multi-modalism is a modern concept and the Rotterdam Rules has taken care of this.
In Nigeria for example where we have the dry ports , you can import anything from any where in the world , it can come through the sea, it will come through or through the rail and at the same time using one single document and one agent and you will receive your goods that is the model we are looking at.
Also, another significant modality in Rotterdam Rules is the aspect of electronic commerce, neither the Hague nor Hamburg Rules have provisions for electronic Bill of Lading, but Rotterdam Rules has made adequate provision for electronic document.
You can see every aspect of modernity in the Rotterdam Rules.
Germany does not seem to be too comfortable with proposed law, why are they not supporting it?
In Europe, they have lot of limited liability regime in their laws; they have developed laws to transport goods by other means so they do not want these laws to be affected in any way.
However, there are other countries in Europe that support this proposed law, but that is what we should expect some will support and some will not because some like their municipal laws more than a thing that is universal.
The United States of America for example is very much in support of the unified law
About twenty countries have appended their signature to the new law, what is delaying its implication?
The convention is barely out of the works, people are still looking at it and see how it will affect their nations but I think the Rotterdam Rule has come to stay
What will Nigerian shippers benefit from the new law?
Nigerian shippers are going to benefit tremendously like I have told you the law will give their cargo more protection and it will give us the opportunity also to adopt certain powers of negotiations with the shipping company.
It has given us variety of modern concept which will boost their trade, it will Nigeria to the international community of nations and it will also help in the infrastructural development of the Nigerian maritime industry more so that the Ministry of Transport is dredging the River Niger and concentrating in developing rail lines all these will be within the legal framework of the Rotterdam Rules.
These ship owners have a way of circumventing such international convention and we are aware that they are already making such moves how would you react to this?
You know what we want is equilibrium, in as much as both carriers and the cargo owners are always at the opposing ends, it important to know that the shippers’ needs the carriers as much as the carriers need the shippers.
So there must be some harmony, there must be some equilibrium in the entire playing field of shipping necessary for the operation of shipping and I think the earlier we discuss these issues antagonism between the carrier and the shippers the better.
I think that both the interest of the carrier and the shipper have found a perfect place in the Rotterdam Rules.
Will these new rules bring about a change in the contract of carriage of goods like the CIF and the FOB?
Yes the new contract of carriage of goods will be to the advantage of the cargo owner, in the long run it will to the advantage of shipping.
This new law like I told you, what you should be look at is the modernity, as a matter the provision which the carrier used to receive nautical compensation like the nautical force defense have been abolished.
What the Rotterdam Rules has done is to accord recognition to participants in international trade be they shippers or carriers, they try to negotiate and meander the much needed balance between these two parties.
Developing countries are very much represented in the new Rotterdam Rule and they should also explore and exploit the provision of Rotterdam Rules to our own advantage.
Of course, in everything they could be some maneuvers like you said, so there is judicial intervention in respect of our interest, it is not a free for all things.
This new law will bring about development; we can never go back to those days of antagonistic rules of Hamburg and the Hague rules.
How will this new law benefit other allied sub-sectors in the Nigerian maritime such as the marine insurance industry and its likes?
One of the criticisms of the Rotterdam Rule is that because the carrier is liable for the transportation goods through out the entire modes of transport, the insurance premium that shippers will pay will increase as shippers will have to pay more for insurance.
The Rotterdam Rule has also imposed some obligation on the shipper to get his goods ready for shipment and so many other obligations.
You have to develop the shipper, you cannot be a baby forever, and there must obligation because he is a very important partner in international trade.
Is Nigeria going to be a cargo owning nation for ever, are we not going to strive to be a carrier nation, we cannot develop on this infantile idea of always saying that we are handicapped because we are cargo owning nation things will have to change, we have to develop capacity, we have to have bottoms (Vessels) .
What we need is for to grow, to be a maritime nation, to be a ship owning nation; we should try and move on.
Is the Nigerian Shipper aware of these new changes in international maritime law?
Prior to all these negotiations, we had a colloquium where the Nigerian Shippers Council invited all the stakeholders in the maritime industry and we told them that we are going to negotiate on behalf of Nigeria the Rotterdam Rules which is a development over the Hague and Hamburg rules and they all collated their views we had the master mariners, bankers shippers freight forwarders marine insurance firms and various stakeholders who took a look at the draft convention at that time and they made their input.
It was after that we decided to have a regional colloquium where we invited African countries and seven of them came because we also realized at that time that Africa needed a block representation.
Besides, after the colloquium, they were other follow up in Benin Republic and Senegal.
This was later to be known as the African group which was led by Nigeria and Nigeria presented a working paper which was later adopted as the basis for all the negotiations by African countries.
And the African group was recognized, the African group was consulted, the African group’s intervention and contribution is reflected in the Rotterdam Rules.
How will this new law impact the economy of the nation and the economy of the Nigerian shipper?
On the economy, it will be tremendous in the sense that unification of rules will have impact on the international trade and Nigeria will be a fertile ground for trade because the clauses are alive to internationally accepted laws and Nigeria will also be among the modern nations that have incorporated electronic commerce and the benefits accruable are better imagine and the economy of Nigeria will be better for because the whole world will open up.