The recent judgement of the Court of Appeal, Lagos on port charges has restored confidence of importers, shippers and clearing agents in the nation’s seaports, LEADERSHIP has learnt.
The Appeal Court sitting in Lagos last Tuesday, upheld the judgement of the federal high court between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) over shipping charges.
STOAN had gone to court to challenge the decision of the Shippers Council reversing storage charges collected by the terminal operators and the increase of the free storage period at the ports from three to seven days.
The association had lost in the Federal High Court as the court upheld the decision of the federal government to appoint the NSC as ports economic regulatory. The Federal high Court also upheld the decision of the Ports Regulator to reduce the Progressive Storage Charge to the rate approved by the Transport Ministry in 2009 for the terminal operators.
But, in her judgement, Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa of the Court of Appeal, Lagos dismissed the appeal of STOAN as she upheld the counter claim of the second respondent, Shippers Association Lagos State (SALS).
The dismal of STOAN’s appeal by Appeal Court now means that the Progressive Storage Charge would reverse to the rate approved by the Transport Ministry in 2009 for the terminal operators. Also, container free Storage Period would increase from three days to seven days to compete favourably with neighbouring ports of Cotonou, Ghana, Gambia and Cameroun.
The Container Demurrage-free days equally increased to 10 days while Container Deposit, which importers and freight forwarders complained about, would henceforth be refunded within 10 days after the empties had been returned to the shipping companies.
Industry experts also believed that the judgement would stall cargo diversion to neighbouring ports of Benin Republic, Ghana and Togo and help Nigeria woo over 60 per cent of its diverted cargoes. It was believed that importers divert cargoes over series of unapproved charges at the various seaports.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP, the President of SALS, Rev. Jonathan Nicol said the judgement of the appellate court has validated the claims that Nigerian Shippers are at the receiving end of illegal charges at the seaports. “That is the reflection of what Nigerian Shippers are suffering and even more,” he said.
Speaking on the judgement enhancing importers confidence, Nicol said he hope the terminal operators will respect the court judgement. “Well it depend on the parties involved if we have honour, we should obey court order and if they don’t have respect for law and justice it is bad. It is a test case for everyone to digress on.
“The case has gone to appeal court and the court cannot be making mistake for giving judgement that they know what they found on ground is correct that is why they are giving judgement on what we prayed for. I believe everyone will obey the court order and I believe they are respectable people and I believe they will do the needful,” Nicol said.
Also speaking, president, National Council of Managing Directors of Licenced Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) has asked the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to enforce the judgement of the court of Appeal. He said it is only when the judgement is enforced that confidence of clearing agents, importers and shippers would return to the nation’s seaport.
He said: “It can only enhance confidence only if it is being implemented but if they are not implementing, it won’t enhance any confidence. The appeal court judgement is good and I hope shippers’ Council will implement this judgement.
‘‘The high Court judgment is supposed to be implemented immediately by putting the money in a vault. The high Court decision is that this things have been done illegally and money needed to be returned to government vault and now that appeal court has thrown away the appeal then they should execute it whether they appeal to supreme Court or not.”
The frontline clearing agent said charges at Nigerian ports fuel diversion of cargoes to neighboring port of Ghana and Benin Republic. “People are suffering in Nigerian ports. The manipulation in the seaport is terrible nobody is making any gain when one pay N20,000 per day on a 40ft container for shipping company that is doing nothing.
“Ghana has cancelled terminal handling charges and our port is one of the most expensive in the world. How long will they continue to exploit the system at the expense of Nigerian importers,” he lamented.
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