NIGERIA: Unregistered cabotage vessels risk forfeiture, US$40,000 fine

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Companies and owners of non-compliant vessels engaged in Cabotage trade in Nigeria risk detention and forfeiture or fines ranging from N5,000,000 to N15,000,000 if they fail to have them registered by December 2020.

On September 15, 2020, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) issued a Marine Notice on “Cabotage Registration of Vessels operating in Nigerian Waters and Renewal of Expired Certificates/Licenses”.

Acting in exercise of its powers under the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003 and the Guidelines on Implementation of the Act, the Agency has issued a three-month ultimatum within which vessels in use in Nigeria’s waters are to comply with Section 22 of the Cabotage Act by meeting registration requirements under the Cabotage Merchant Shipping Acts.

The notice indicated that “In addition to registration in the applicable Special Register for Cabotage Vessels and Ship Owning companies, and obtaining the Certificate of Cabotage Registration/License, operators with expired registration certificates are to ensure the renewal of their Cabotage Operational Certificate/License for all Cabotage vessels within three months.”

The Agency intends to enforce compliance by engaging International Oil Companies as well as relevant government authorities to bar vessels without valid Cabotage certificates at the expiration of the three months.

In a Legal Advisory Note circulated by leading Nigerian maritime law firm, Akabogu & Associates, it stated that “NIMASA has acted within its powers under section 22 and 29 of the Cabotage Act, as those sections require Cabotage Vessels to be registered by the Registrar of Ships in the Special Cabotage Register domiciled in the Agency.”

The Note which targets ship owners, charterers, shipping companies and the maritime public, places emphasis on registration and renewal of certificates of registration which confer authority to trade within cabotage waters in Nigeria.

It inferred that vessels previously registered or granted licenses or permits which have expired, are deemed to have been deleted from the Register under section 25 of the Act.

The advisory further directed operators to consult the ‘Nigerian Ship Registration Requirements’ issued by the Nigerian Ship Registration Office’ for details to aid submission of valid documentation in proof of ownership of the vessel and where necessary, obtaining relevant waivers.

Speaking shortly after NIMASA announced the ultimatum, its Director-General, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, disclosed that the notice was part of efforts to ensure strict enforcement of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003 and Guidelines on Implementation of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003.

Jamoh reiterated that the Cabotage Act provided that every vessel intended for use in domestic trade must be duly registered by the Registrar of Ships.

The DG stated, “The law provides that every vessel intended for use under the Cabotage Act must be duly registered in the appropriate register and the operational certificates be renewed annually. We are out to ensure strict implementation of NIMASA’s mandate under the law.

“Ultimately, our intention is to build and continue to enhance the capacity of Nigerians in the shipping industry in line with relevant international regulations.”

Ship owners, charterers, managers, agents and other interested persons have therefore been advised to take measures to ensure vessels they own or deployed in their operations are compliant. The Notice places responsibility for proper due diligence prior to and even in the course of hire or voyage fixtures.

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