NLNG vs NIMASA: Court refuses to renew order

NLNG09 July 2013, Lagos – A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Monday, refused to renew the order ex-parte granted in favour of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, NLNG, restraining Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, from detaining its vessels over failure to pay statutory charges to the Federal Government.

Trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, who turned down the oral application by NLNG’s lawyer, also warned parties to desist from engaging in acts that could undermine proceedings in court.

NLNG and NIMASA had been locked in battle over the issue of non-payment of certain statutory levies and charges which NIMASA claims are due to it from NLNG.

The court had on June 18, 2013 in a suit between NLNG against the Attorney-General of the Federation and Global West Vessels Specialists, restrained the defendants from charging, imposing, demanding or collecting the three percent of gross freight earnings or any other sums further to section 15(a) of NIMASA Act 2007 on all of NLNG’s international inbound or outbound cargo ships owned, contracted or subcontracted by it.

AGF and Global West had last Friday in separate applications, sought to discharge the ex-parte order on the grounds that the order was essentially made against NIMASA, which was not a party in the suit.

The AGF had contended in its application that NIMASA was a body corporate with statutory powers to sue and be sued in its own name and that its non-inclusion as a party was a violation of the principles of fair hearing.

He argued that the fact that the other side was not heard before the order was made was fatal to the case of NLNG, adding that the dispute that gave rise to the suit was essentially between NLNG and NIMASA, and that the non-inclusion was a deliberate move by NLNG to circumvent the provision of Section 53(2) of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Act of 2007, which makes it mandatory for an intending plaintiff to give the statutory body a 30-day pre-action notice.

Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, counsel to Global West Vessels on his part, argued that the ex-parte order was procured by suppression of material fact, as same was essentially against NIMASA.

He argued that being an agent of NIMASA, Global West ought not to be sued, and that the said company, which is a private firm, could not be held liable for action of the agency.

But the court in its ruling, dismissed the contentions of the defendants. Shortly after the ruling, counsel to NLNG made an oral application for the order to be extended, which was opposed by NIMASA and Global West Vessels.

The court in a short ruling, held that since the defendants are already challenging his jurisdiction to entertain the suit, the only jurisdiction “I have now is to hear the objections of the defendants.”

The matter was, thereafter, adjourned till July 9, 2013 for hearing of the preliminary objections filed by the defendants.

– Innocent Anaba, Vanguard.

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