Strong indications emerged last week that the nation’s apex maritime
industry regulatory agency; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) may have ran foul of the provision of the Cabotage Act by allegedly boarding and collecting dues from a foreign vessel which is currently being detained on the orders of the Federal High Court, Lagos.
The ship, MT Makhambet was arrested about two weeks ago for allegedly lifting petroleum products within Nigeria’s coastal waters in violation of the Cabotage Act.
Owned by MBX Shipping Limited; based in St Vincent and The Grenades MT Makhambet was dragged before the court by Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) as well as an indigenous shipping company, Pokat Nigeria Limited.
The case came up for hearing twice last week and the court ordered that the ship be moved from her detention point at the ever busy Ibafon petroleum products jetty to the more secured defence jetty.
But when the case came up for hearing again on last Wednesday, the court was told that the ship actually paid all dues that were accruable to NIMASA as a vessel operating in Nigeria and that the agency’s officials actually boarded her and interacted with the captain and crew and that if MT Makhambet was operating illegally, she would not have had a relationship with NIMASA.
On the strength of disclosure by counsels to the ship owners, a case of no locus standi was pleaded against ISAN and the second plaintiff.
The case which promises to be a landmark one is being fought on the basis of violation of the Cabotage Act which the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency is expected to implement and industry operators expressed shock that NIMASA was more interested in collecting levies from ships operating on Nigerian waters than ascertaining heir nationalities and double checking whether or not certain provisions have been violated.
Also affirming the importance of the case, the plaintiffs’ lawyer explained that this is the first time that members of ISAN have gone to court with a view to demanding interpretation of their rights vis-a vis foreign flagged vessels within the context of the implementation of the Cabotage Act.
“What this case is all about is to give the court (for the first time) an opportunity to interpret certain provision of the Cabotage Act and let ISAN or its members and also Nigerian ship owners who the Act was enacted to empower what rights they have under that law vis- a- vis foreign ship owners that are operating in the country”, he stressed.
Lamenting the plight of the indigenous ship owners, Igbokwe stated that for months they have no cargo to carry while foreign ships have a field day.
“The foreign owned vessels that are not registered for Cabotage come, carry cargo within Nigerian territorial waters despite the fact that the Cabotage Act was enacted by the National Assembly to restrict the participation of the foreign vessels in the carriage of cargoes in and within the Nigerian waters”, he lamented.