Nigerian Shippers’ Council International Maritime Seminar for Judges Ends with Draft Communique

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Nigerian Shippers’ Council International Maritime Seminar for Judges Ends with Draft Communique

The third and final day of the biennial International Maritime Seminar for Judges (Thursday, July 05, 2018) proved to be the liveliest of all, as delegates heard brilliant presentations and well-informed commentary on two important subjects of interest, as well as incisive questions and articulate observations from the cross-segment of the audience.

The first topic under discussion, ‘The Right of a Cargo Owner at the Insolvency of a Carrier – the Hanjin Shipping Experience,’  was presented by Femi Young, the chairman, Sun Logistics & Marine Services (UK) Limited, in a session chaired by Hon. Sidi Dauda Baje, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

The speaker opened his presentation by explaining the background behind the reference to ‘Hanjin Shipping’.   

Hanjin Shipping Co. was once a shining example of South Korean prosperity. Once amongst the top ten largest shipping companies in the world, the company moved 4.62 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo in 2015 and accounted for 8% of America’s trans-Pacific trade volume. In South Korea itself, Hanjin Shipping’s parent conglomerate, Hanjin Group, stood alongside the likes of Samsung, Hyundai and LG as the mega-powerful key drivers of the South Korean economy. However, it soon emerged that the company had been losing money for some time, and recent slowdowns in global trade crippled the company even more until in September 2016, with debt mounting and key creditors refusing to loan any more money, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy in a court in Seoul, the nation’s capital. News of Hanjin’s bankruptcy continues to have a ripple effect globally, creating legal entanglements and disrupting company supply chains. Some ports, terminals, stevedores, truckers and rail carriers have since refused to service Hanjin vessels and containers for fear of not getting paid

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Nigeria being a nation of mostly importers, Mr. Young noted, the risk of Nigerian cargo owners suffering similar losses from other Hanjins out there was very high. To stave off such an eventuality, he proposed a raft of precautions by not just cargo owners but other stakeholders such as relevant government agencies, insurance, secured creditors, and so forth.

Mr. Young’s presentation was followed by two equally perceptive commentaries – the first by the Hon. Justice A. O. Faji, a Judge of the federal high court, and the second by Mrs. Oritshematosan Edodo Emore, a legal practitioner. Both commentators not only endorsed Mr. Young’s preventive measures, but also called on cargo owners, handling companies, insurance companies and others to do the following: investigate the financial health of the commercial liners they wished to do business with; identify what carriers have lately been stranded, or delayed, or seized; and investigate the partners of such shipping companies to ascertain their corporate and sustainability, among others.

Predictably, as if to underline the importance of this subject, a number of delegates had a lot to say on the matter of protecting cargo owners (read: the Nigerian importer) against the vagaries of doing business with dodgy shippers in an already unfriendly business environment. One of these delegates, Hon. Justice Biobele Georgewill of the Court Of Appeal wanted to know if important stakeholders in the maritime trade industry have an emergency fund to cushion against such adversities as the Hanjin case, and how a cargo owner can ascertain which carrier had such a fund before making a decision as to whom to do business with.

Also commenting, a prominent Lagos lawyer, Chief Mike Igbokwe, SAN, decried the lack of a strong cross-border insolvency legislation to anticipate future Hanjins, and called on Nigerian authorities to update the country’s extant laws in this regard.  While organizations such as the Nigerian deposit Insurance Scheme (NDIC) and (AMCON) have laws and regulations designed to mitigate against local insolvency, he said, the relevant authorities would do well to extend its scope beyond the borders of Nigeria – in concert with the country’s trading partners abroad.

Igbokwe’s views were also expounded upon by a former Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Mr. Kingsley Usoh.

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The intellectual exchange was no less intense during the second session of Day 3, which was chaired by the well-regarded jurist, Hon. Justice Amina A. Augie, CON, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The lead speaker was no other than the irrepressible Mrs. Mfon E. Usoro. A one-time Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mrs. Usoro currently serves as the Secretary General of the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control for the West and Central African Region. She spoke on the topic ‘An Overview of the Proposed Liability Regime for inland Carriage of Goods (Roads, Rails and Inland Waterways).’ In her well-researched and well-illustrated presentation, Usoro listed the many benefits as well as impediments in the way of implementing a fair and effective liability regime in the Nigerian jurisdiction, in the event of loss, injury or damage to life and property. She expounded on her theme  under such sub-headings as Liability Regime for Contract of Carriage; Regulatory Deficit in Inland Carriage by Land & IWT; Key Pointers in the Proposed Draft Bill for Inland Carriage of Goods; and Competent Authority? (Who determines liability?)

At the end of Usoro’s well-received presentation, the chairman of the occasion, Hon. Justice Augie dispensed with the formal commentaries that have followed earlier papers and called for contributions directly from the floor. They came thick and fast, as a number of delegates expressed their interest and concern on a vast range of issues.

A draft communiqué encapsulating the areas of consensus reached during the three days of deliberation was read to the house for adoption. But delegates were less than unanimous in adopting the draft communiqué document, citing inconsistencies, ambiguous language and over-generalization on the part of the rapporteurs, upon which the house agreed to defer adoption to a later date, pending the amendment of offending provisions and inadequate clauses by the rapporteurs.

The 15th International Maritime Seminar for Judges was brought to a close with a vote of thanks by the chairman of the committee that put the 2018 seminar in place, the Hon. Justice A. A. Kafarati, who is also a Judge of the Federal High Court. While thanking his colleagues on the committee for their diligence and sacrifice in making the seminar, he communicated an important suggestion from a number of stakeholders, namely, to change the timing of the seminar from a biennial affair to an annual event.

See photos below:

                                     

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