On the 5th of March 2021, the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, Lagos Division, delivered a landmark judgment in the case of MT Sam Purpose (Ex MT. Tapti) & Anor v Amarjeet Singh Bains & 6 Ors (“MT Sam Purpose v Amarjeet Singh Bains”).The appeal arose from the ruling of the Federal High Court (“FHC”), Lagos Division delivered on 22nd May, 2020. In resolving the primary issue before the Court of Appeal, that is, which Court between the Federal High Court (“FHC“) and the National Industrial Court (“NIC”) has exclusive jurisdiction over maritime labour claims, the Court of Appeal relied on the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) (“Constitution”), the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act (“AJA”), the Merchant Shipping Act (“MSA”), the Labour Act and judicial precedence to hold that the NIC is the Court vested with exclusive jurisdiction to entertain maritime labour claims bordering on the wages of crew members and or seamen.
This decision has generated a lot of controversies and heated debates among labour and maritime practitioners and has brought to the front burner the need for a re-examination of the jurisdictional scope of the above-named Courts in the light of constitutional provisions, particularly as it relates to maritime labour claims.
Before delving into the facts of MT Sam Purpose v Amarjeet Singh Bains and a review of the judgment, it is important to briefly discuss jurisdiction in maritime labour claims.