Port Charges:  Stakeholders Urge Shippers’ Council, Terminal Operators to Settle Out of Court

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Stakeholders in the ports industry have called for an out of court settlement of the dispute between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC,  and  the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN.

The    STOAN and  Association Shipping Lines Agencies (ASLA  had taken the Council to court following its decision to  reverse storage charges collected by the terminal operators  and for increasing  free storage days at the  seaports from three to seven.

Similarly, ASLA had also gone to court to stop the Ports Regulator from  reducing  their   shipping line agency charges (SLAC) and  refund container deposits within 10 days.

Both terminal operators and the shipping lines had questioned the powers of the Ports Regulator to carry out such action.

But  Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court Ikoyi had in December 17, 2014, ruled in favour of  the NSC,  upholding its appointment as the ports economic regulator for the ports industry and affirming its decision  on the charges.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, members of STOAN and SLAC had filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal to upturn the ruling of the lower court.

 However, maritime industry stakeholders, drawn from the freight forwarding profession  and maritime lawyers weekend said  the way  out was for the three parties in the case  to embrace an out of court settlement.

They argued that this was for the good of all the parties and for the benefit of the Nigerian economy which is currently facing recession.

Former President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, Dr. Eugene Nweke,   said alternative dispute resolution or out of court settlement was better for the industry and the national economy.

Noting that out of court settlement would have been good as a precedent, Nweke said this would take time to achieve as the court would need time to study the  case  before justice can be  expected.

He called on all the parties, including the ports economic regulator, STOAN and ASLA, to consider   reaching a compromise as part of the out of court settlement.

Nweke argued that such out of court settlement was desirable considering that the issues involved were those bordering on international trade.

A maritime lawyer, Mr. Emma Ofomata who spoke on the issue also said it was time for the parties in the case to embrace alternative dispute resolution.

“Out of court settlement is encouraged because the court is always willing to address issues between parties, not necessarily to punish a particular person but to achieve amicable resolution of issues. That is the essence of court. In modern day, the court always encourages alternative dispute resolution because the primary objective of the law is for all parties to have their cases resolved”, Ofomata said.

Ofomata said that quick resolution of the case would be of immense benefit to the ports industry and the economy.

“The main problem between them is the issue of cost, they can sit down and settle the matter. What I expect the parties to do is to sit down to determine the actual cost of doing business in Nigeria. If the cost is too high, government could be approached to create an enabling environment to reduce it”, he said.