07 February 2014, Lagos – A firm, Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, yesterday urged Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos to stay proceedings in the case between the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The company, an agent of NIMASA, said it filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Lagos against the judge’s refusal to vacate an interim order.
NIMASA and NLNG are in court over disagreements regarding statutory levies and charges, which last year led to NIMASA’s blockade of NLNG’s vessels.
Global West, the second defendant through its lawyer, Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN) ,urged the court to suspend further hearing until its appeal is determined.
The court, on June 18 last year, granted an ex-parte order restraining the defendants from charging or collecting three per cent of gross freight earnings on all NLNG’s cargo ships.
The judge also restrained the defendants from further detaining or preventing NLNG’s chattered vessels from exporting of gas through the Bonny channel or elsewhere in Nigeria.
Global West’s objection against the order was dismissed because there was no suppression of any material fact, and that it could be sued on behalf of its principal (NIMASA).
NLNG’s lawyer, Abiodun Layonu, (SAN) urged the judge to dismiss the motion.
He said his client wants to conclude the substantive matter so as to determine the legality of the three percent of gross freight earnings.
The applicant, he said, had not satisfied the requirements for the grant of a stay of proceedings, adding that contrary to the submission of counsel to Global West, the appeal will not be rendered nugatory even if the appeal court rules that it is not a necessary party to the substantive suit.
Layonu submitted that the balance of convenience weighs in favour of NLNG and urged the court to consider the level of hardship to be suffered by NLNG in the event of a stay being granted just because there is an appeal, whose terminal date cannot presently be determined by any of the parties) as against the hardship to be suffered by GW in the event that the matter continues at the High Court and the appeal is determined in favour of GW. He submitted that in view of the huge sums of money NLNG has paid to NIMASA and continues to pay for as long as the matter is in court, the scale of the balance of convenience weighs in favour of NLNG and it is in the interest of justice to allow the substantive case to continue so that a final decision is reached to determine the parties’ rights.
He added that if the court stays the proceedings, NIMASA’s pending application for joinder will become a nullity. Therefore, in the face of NIMASA’s application, the application for stay is premature and should be refused by the court. He also explained that the decision of the Appeal Court on NLNG’s Preliminary Objection to the competence of the Notice of Appeal was only with respect to NIMASA’s Notice of Appeal.
Last year, the court entered a consent order in the dispute after NLNG and NIMASA agreed the agency would release NLNG’s vessels.
“Subject to NLNG continuing to make payment for all applicable NIMASA levies (three per cent NIMASA levies and Sea Protection levy), NIMASA undertakes not to detain NLNG-owned or chartered vessels,” the parties agreed.
NLNG noted that the payments would “continue to be made under protest and without prejudice to the legal rights of all parties to seek appropriate judicial interpretation and resolution up to any level allowed under the Constitution.”
– The Nation