Admiralty Jurisdiction of Federal High Court

M-I NIGERIA LIMITED

                                         V

1.      MOSES OMODUEMUKE

(Doing business in the name

and style of Jimota & Company)

Facts

On the 6th of March, 2003 under a written contract agreement, the appellant hired a flat top barge known as Godshold III from the respondent. The appellant after inspecting the barge took delivery of it and made an initial advance payment as rent for the barge. After the expiration of the rent paid by the appellant for a yearly advance payment of rent, the appellant refused to pay the agreed rent for the barge and also refused to return the barge to the respondent.

The respondent as a plaintiff filed a suit at the Delta State high court claiming the following:

1.     The sum of #9, 405,000.00( Nine Million, Four Hundred and Five Thousand Naira only) being the accrued rent for the hire of the plaintiff’s flat top barge known as Godshold III by the Defendant from 6th March, 2004 to the 3othn September, 2004 at the daily rate of #45,000.00 (Forty Five thousand Naira only).

2.     Payment of the daily hire rate of the said barge at 45,000.00 (Forty five Thousand naira only) from 1stn October, 2004 till when the barge is returned by the Defendant to the plaintiff in good condition.

3.     The return of the said flat top barge known as Godshold III by the Defendant to the plaintiff in good condition or alternatively its value which is #45,000,000.00 (Forty Five Million Naira only).

4.     Interest of 21% per annum on all the sums claimed (excluding the value of the barge) being general damages for Defendant’s default to pay the said sum as at when due, which has adversely affected plaintiff’s business operations.

The Appellant/Defendant challenged the jurisdiction of the High court of Delta State to entertain the suit. The notice of preliminary injunction was dismissed by the trial court, dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal

Judgment

The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act number 59 of the 1991 clearly and graphically defines the extent of the admiralty Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court section 1(1) of the Act provides:

1 The admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal High Court (in this act referred to as “the Court”) includes the following, that is-

a)     Jurisdiction to hear and determine any question relating to a proprietary interest in a ship or aircraft or any maritime claim specified in section 2 of this Act.

b)     Any other admiralty jurisdiction being exercised by any other court in Nigeria immediately before the commencement of this Decree,

c)      Any jurisdiction connected with any ship or aircraft which is vested in any other court in Nigeria immediately before the commencement of this Act

d)     Any matter arising from shipping and navigation on any inland waters declared as nation waterways,

2.     Section 2 of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act number 59 of the 1991 defines maritime claims and provides thus:

1.     A reference in this Decree to a maritime claim is a reference to a proprietary maritime claim or a general maritime Claim. 

2.     A reference in this Decree to a proprietary maritime claim is a reference to-

a)     A claim relating to –

The possession of a ship, or

b)     A claim between co-owners of a ship relating to the possession, ownership, operation or earning of a Ship;

c)     ……………………………….

d)     A claim for interest in respect of a claim referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of this subsection.

3.     A reference in this Decree to a general maritime claim is a reference to-

(a) ………………………

(b) ………………………

(c)……………………….

(d)……………………….

(f)A claim out of an agreement relating to the carriage of goods or persons by a ship or to   the use or hire of a ship, whether by charter-party or otherwise;

(u) A claim for interest in respect of a claim referred to in any of the paragraphs (a) to (t) of this subsection.

3.     It is not the law that once a ship as defined in section 25 of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act is involved in any claim it is a claim in admiralty.

4.      The provision of section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999,… are very clear and unambiguous. It is the section that confers jurisdiction on the Federal High Court, which jurisdiction clearly does not include dealing with any case of simple contract or damages for negligence as envisaged by the action before the trial court.

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