By Francis ugwoke
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, has swung into action to ensure that the affected shipping companies refund whatever they have collected as Shipping Lines Agency Charges, SLAC, to the regulatory agency without further delay.
The move is in keeping with the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal which described SLAC as “illegal, ultra vires and therefore null and void”.
Justice Abimbola Osarugue Obasaseki-Adejumo had in the judgment of the Appeal Court ordered the shipping companies to “immediately stop collection of SLAC” and to account for and pay to the Cargo Defence Fund of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council from 2006 to date the amount collected.
The shipping companies are also to make the refund at the interest rate of 21 percent per annum “all monies and fees” collected during the same period.
A source close to the NSC said the management is currently putting finishing touches on the modality of the refund.
For instance, it was gathered that the Council is compiling and cross-checking the amount to be refunded by the shipping companies and what individual importers should get.
Our source said that once this is done, the Council will write to the shipping companies for the refund of what is due from them.
Our source added that the amount to be refunded by the shipping companies may run into hundreds of billions of Naira and estimated at about N500bn.
However, it was gathered that the Council is working with the various shipping associations and customs agents to get the accurate amount that the shipping companies will be refunding to the council.
The amount when collected by the Council will in turn be paid back to the affected shippers whose money was collected illegally by the shipping companies.
The Council had in 2014 reduced the amount collected on SLAC, a measure which the shipping companies refused to obey.
Operating under the Association Shipping Lines Agencies, ASLA, the shipping companies had as a result gone to court to stop the ports economic regulator, but lost the case in December 2014.
They then headed to the Appeal Court along with the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN, whose members were equally against the decision of the Council reversing storage charges collected by the terminal operators and the increase of the free storage period at the ports from three to seven days.
But in the judgment of the Appeal Court, the appellants again lost in their case against the NSC on SLAC.
The Appeal Court had ordered that the appellants should give account of what they collected from 11 years ago till date to the Shippers’ Council.
Apart from this, the appellants are also to make the refund with 21 percent interest per annum since 2006.