Terminal Operators, Shipping Companies May Refund N7tn To Shippers

Mr. Hassan Bello, NSC Boss

If the courts rules in favour of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council in a suit challenging the imposition of arbitrary charges on users of shipping services, up to N7 trillion may be refunded by private terminal operators and shipping companies being accumulated levies collected over the years.

The suit is currently being heard at the Court of Appeal after a Federal High Court had earlier given judgment in favour of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and slammed a N1 trillion fine on the shipping companies and terminal operators.

Speaking during a meeting with customs licensed clearing agents and maritime truck owners in Lagos, Hassan Bello, executive secretary of the Council, said his organisation remains committed to protecting the interests of users of shipping services in Nigeria.

Responding to allegations of inertia in the face of series of unauthorized levies imposed on shippers by terminal operators and ship owners, Bello explained that the justice system in the country works slowly, but expressed confidence that it will grind to justice for shippers.

The stakeholders had challenged the Council of being docile in its ombudsman role and championing the course of importers and agents against the terminal operators and shipping companies.

But reacting to the insinuation from the operators, Bello lamented that the slow dispensation of justice in Nigeria was responsible for the inability of the NSC to speedily resolve issues bordering on reversal of illegally collected charges.

NSC boss reiterated that the court of first jurisdiction had awarded a charge of N1 trillion against the duo for the excess charges collected from importers and agents within the period they increased terminal charges and shipping fees without due consultation with relevant agencies.

“The justice system is very slow. The court had determined at the first instance that the illegal levies amounted to over N1 trillion and money was to be paid to the system before it went to the Court of Appeal. While the case is still pending, the amount of the illegal levies collected so far is in the region of N7 trillion.

“Our hands are tied because they (terminal operators and shipping companies) went and obtained an injunction. But for every move they make, we also make counter moves.

“We are not the one that went to court, they took us to court. I do agree that the charges should be reviewed through consultation, and you have to activate the rules of engagement. You cannot charge unilaterally or arbitrarily and say this is my charge, it must be negotiated and approved by the authority,” Bello explained to the stakeholders.

Bello however stated that the Council is open to out of court settlement but added that the most important thing is for the operators to obey the laws of the country.

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had in a 2014 judgment declared that the Shipping Line Agency Charges (SLAC) levied and collected from Nigerian shippers by shipping companies since 2006 is illegal.

The Court therefore ruled that the shipping companies should account and pay to Nigerian shippers all monies or fees charged and collected since 2006 as SLAC from shippers or users of shipping/port related services from 2006 to date which runs into trillions of naira.

In a landmark judgment by Justice Buba Ibrahim, sitting at the Federal High Court, Lagos, in SUIT NO. FHC/CS/1646/2014 – ALRAINE SHIPPING AGENCIES (NIG) LTD & ORS Vs NIGERIAN SHIPPERS’ COUNCIL and SUIT NO. FHC/CS/1704/2014 – APAPA BULK TERMINAL LTD & ORS Vs NIGERIAN SHIPPERS’ COUNCIL, he affirmed the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers Council as the Economic Regulator of the Ports and dismissed the claims of shipping companies and the terminal operators.

Pursuant to the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers Council as the Economic Regulator of Nigerian ports by the federal government, in line with the executive powers of the president in February 2014, the NSC  issued notices to both the shipping companies and terminal operators to reverse all illegal charges levied on Nigerian shippers.

Dissatisfied, the shipping companies and the concessionaires filed an appeal against the council at the Appeal Court in Lagos in 2015.

Business and Maritime