Maritime Contracts: Understanding The Essential Elements And Legal Issues Arising In Nigeria

The Trusted Advisors


Trusted Advisors is a full serviced law firm founded to provide cutting edge and tailor-made legal solutions to clients. It's strategic position, as well as an enviable network of alliances, has given undoubtedly benefits to our clients. We stand as a single-window service provider dealing with all kinds of matters across the country under one umbrella.
In the complex world of maritime contracts, understanding the essential elements and legal issues is crucial for businesses operating in Nigeria's maritime industry.
Nigeria Transport
To print this article, all you need is to be registered or login on

In the complex world of maritime contracts, understanding the essential elements and legal issues is crucial for businesses operating in Nigeria's maritime industry. From ship charter parties to bills of lading and freight contracts, every aspect of maritime trade requires careful consideration to ensure smooth operations and legal compliance. This article delves into the intricacies of maritime contracts, providing valuable insights into the key components and potential legal challenges that may arise. Whether you are a ship owner, cargo owner, or an intermediary involved in maritime trade, grasping the fundamental elements of these contracts is vital to protect your interests and avoid potential disputes. With in-depth analysis and real-world examples, we explore the various types of maritime contracts, their purpose, and the legal issues that frequently emerge in Nigeria's maritime industry. From breach of contract to cargo damage claims, we examine the potential pitfalls and discuss practical solutions. Stay informed and equipped with the knowledge necessary to navigate the complexities of maritime contracts, ensuring smooth transactions and safeguarding your business interests.


In Nigeria, the maritime industry is governed by various laws, regulations, and institutions aimed at promoting safety, security, and efficiency in maritime operations2. The local maritime regulatory framework in Nigeria encompasses a range of legislation and regulatory bodies, including:

  • Admiralty Jurisdiction Act: The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act's Section 1 delineates the Federal High Court's jurisdiction over maritime contracts and related matters in Nigeria. The Act empowers the court to handle property interests in ships or aircraft and disputes arising from maritime contracts. It inherits admiralty jurisdiction previously held by other Nigerian courts, ensuring continuity in legal practices. The court adjudicates limitations of liability under the Merchant Shipping Act, protects against oil pollution damage claims, and oversees shipping issues on national inland waters. Additionally, it covers disputes within Federal ports, banking transactions related to maritime contracts, and criminal matters connected to maritime activities. In essence, this Act provides a comprehensive legal framework for specialized adjudication of maritime contract disputes in Nigeria.
  • Merchant Shipping Act (MSA): The Merchant Shipping Act (MSA) of 2007 is Nigeria's foundational legislation for merchant shipping and related matters. Section 2 The Merchant Shipping Act, it designates the agency responsible for maritime safety, administration, and security as the implementing body. The Act mandates that all ships trading in Nigerian waters must hold a Certificate of License. According to Section 5 of The Merchant Shipping Act, ships can operate commercially only if they are: a registered Nigerian ship; provided with a certificate of foreign registration or equivalent; registered in another country and exempted from Nigerian registration; exempted from registration; or a licensed Nigerian ship solely operating within Nigeria's waters. Additionally, the Minister has the authority to exempt licensed Nigerian ships from registration when operating outside Nigerian waters by virtue of section 217 (1) of The Merchant Shipping Act.
  • Nigerian Ports Authority Act: The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Act establishes the Nigerian Ports Authority, which oversees the management, operation, and development of ports in Nigeria. The NPA is responsible for ensuring the efficiency and competitiveness of Nigerian ports.
  • Maritime Labour Convention (MLC): Nigeria is a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention, which sets out international standards for seafarers' working and living conditions. The MLC is implemented through national legislation and regulations to protect the rights of seafarers working on Nigerian-flagged vessels.
  • National Inland Waterways Authority Act: The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) Act establishes NIWA, which regulates and oversees the development, management, and maintenance of Nigeria's inland waterways for navigation and transportation.
  • Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act: The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act is a pivotal legislation governing maritime matters in Nigeria. Established to bolster maritime safety, security, and environmental protection, the Act also promotes shipping registration and oversees maritime labor. Section 3 of the Act creates NIMASA as the agency responsible for executing its provisions. NIMASA aims to foster indigenous commercial shipping in both international and coastal trade. The Act's jurisdiction covers all ships registered in Nigeria and extends to foreign-flagged ships within Nigeria's exclusive economic zone, territorial waters, and ports.
  • Cabotage Act: The Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act is designed to fortify indigenous participation in Nigeria's coastal and inland shipping sectors. Its primary aim is to curb the dominance of foreign vessels in domestic coastal trade, fostering the growth of Nigeria's maritime industry and protecting indigenous shipping companies. Section 2 of the Act delineates cabotage as the transportation of goods and passengers within Nigerian waters, encompassing activities related to mineral exploration, exploitation, and transportation. This definition underscores the Act's broad scope, covering both commercial and non-commercial marine activities. Section 3 of the Cabotage Act mandates that only vessels wholly owned and manned by Nigerian citizens, built and registered in Nigeria, can engage in domestic coastal trade. Foreign-owned vessels can participate only after obtaining a license from the Minister, granted upon meeting specific conditions outlined in Section 15. The Act ensures that foreign vessels contribute to the Nigerian economy while prioritizing indigenous shipping interests.

In essence, the Cabotage Act serves as a protective measure, ensuring that domestic coastal and inland shipping operations predominantly benefit Nigerian citizens and companies.

  • Maritime Security Administration Regulations: These regulations provide guidelines for enhancing maritime security in Nigerian waters, including measures to combat piracy, armed robbery at sea, and other maritime crimes.
  • International Maritime Conventions and Treaties: Nigeria is a party to various international maritime conventions and treaties, such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), and International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. These conventions influence Nigeria's maritime regulatory framework and obligations regarding safety, security, and environmental protection.
  • Maritime Industry Guidelines and Circulars: Regulatory authorities such as NIMASA issue guidelines, circulars, and directives to provide further clarity on specific aspects of maritime regulation, compliance requirements, and industry best practices.


Maritime contracts have several essential elements that must be carefully considered to ensure a strong foundation for the agreement. These elements include4:

  • Offer and Acceptance: Like any contract, a maritime contract requires a valid offer from one party and an acceptance by the other. The terms of the offer and acceptance should be clear and unambiguous to avoid potential disputes.
  • Consideration: Consideration refers to the exchange of something of value between the parties involved in the contract. In maritime contracts, this could be the payment of freight charges or the provision of goods or services.
  • Legal Capacity: For a maritime contract to be enforceable, all parties involved must have the legal capacity to enter into a contract. This means that they must be of legal age and mentally competent.
  • Intention to Create Legal Relations: The parties entering into a maritime contract must have the intention to create legal relations. This ensures that the agreement is binding and enforceable by law.
  • Certainty and Clarity of Terms: The terms of the maritime contract should be certain and clear, leaving no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. This helps to avoid potential disputes and ensures both parties are aware of their rights and obligations.


Maritime contracts encompass a wide range of agreements that facilitate the smooth operation of the maritime industry. Some common types of maritime contracts include5:

  • Ship Charter Parties: Ship charter parties are agreements between a shipowner and a charterer for the use of a vessel. These contracts can be time charters, where the vessel is hired for a specified period, or voyage charters, where the vessel is hired for a specific voyage or journey.
  • Bills of Lading: Bills of lading are documents issued by the carrier (usually the shipowner or operator) that serve as evidence of the contract of carriage. They outline the terms and conditions of the transportation of goods by sea, including the quantity, quality, and destination of the cargo.
  • Freight Contracts: Freight contracts are agreements between the shipper and the carrier to transport goods from one location to another. These contracts specify the terms of carriage, including the freight charges, the responsibilities of the carrier, and the obligations of the shipper.
  • Salvage Contracts: Salvage contracts are agreements between the salvor and the owner of a vessel or cargo to provide assistance in case of a maritime emergency, such as a shipwreck or grounding. These contracts outline the compensation and the rights and responsibilities of the salvor and the owner.


While maritime contracts are essential for the smooth operation of the maritime industry, they can also give rise to various legal issues. Understanding these potential challenges is crucial for businesses operating in Nigeria's maritime sector. Some common legal issues that arise in maritime contracts in Nigeria include6:

  • Breach of Contract: Breach of contract occurs when one party fails to fulfill its obligations under the terms of the maritime contract. This can lead to disputes and legal action, potentially resulting in financial losses for the non-breaching party.
  • Cargo Damage Claims: Cargo damage claims often arise when goods are damaged during transportation. This can be due to improper packaging, mishandling, or natural disasters. Resolving cargo damage claims requires a thorough understanding of the applicable laws and contractual obligations.
  • Insurance and Indemnity: Insurance and indemnity play a crucial role in mitigating risks in maritime contracts. Understanding the insurance requirements and the extent of indemnity coverage is essential for protecting the interests of all parties involved.
  • Dispute Resolution: Disputes often arise in maritime contracts, and the choice of dispute resolution method is crucial. The parties may choose arbitration, litigation, or alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or negotiation. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each method is essential when drafting the contract.


In maritime contracts, jurisdiction and choice of law play crucial roles in determining the legal framework governing disputes that may arise between parties involved in maritime transactions in Nigeria. Here's a breakdown of jurisdiction and choice of law in Nigerian maritime contracts:

  1. Jurisdiction:

Jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court or legal system to hear and adjudicate disputes. In Nigeria, jurisdiction in maritime matters is primarily governed by the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act of 19917. This Act grants exclusive jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime claims to the Federal High Court. The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act empowers the Federal High Court to apply both Nigerian maritime laws and international conventions ratified by Nigeria in resolving maritime disputes.

The Federal High Court has jurisdiction over a wide range of maritime disputes, including8:

  • Claims relating to ship mortgages, liens, and admiralty arrests.
  • Claims for loss or damage to ships or cargo.
  • Matters related to salvage, collision, towage, and general average.
  • Claims for maritime personal injuries or death.
  • Matters concerning marine insurance and marine pollution.
  • Choice of Law:

Choice of law refers to the selection of the legal system or jurisdiction whose laws will govern the interpretation and enforcement of a contract9. In maritime contracts involving parties from different jurisdictions, the choice of law provision is essential for determining the substantive rights and obligations of the parties.

In Nigeria, parties to maritime contracts have the freedom to choose the governing law of their contract. However, the choice of law must be explicitly stated in the contract. If the parties have not specified the applicable law, the courts may apply the law with the closest connection to the contract, which could be Nigerian maritime laws or the laws of another jurisdiction depending on the circumstances of the case. It's common for maritime contracts to include choice of law clauses specifying either Nigerian law or the laws of another jurisdiction, such as English law or the law of a common law jurisdiction. These clauses help provide certainty and predictability to the parties regarding the legal framework governing their contractual relationship.

Additionally, parties may also choose arbitration as a method for resolving disputes arising from maritime contracts. Arbitration allows parties to select their arbitrators and procedural rules, including the choice of applicable law. The Arbitration and Conciliation Act governs arbitration proceedings in Nigeria, providing a flexible and efficient alternative to court litigation for resolving maritime disputes.

Dispute Resolution in Maritime Contracts

Dispute resolution mechanisms in maritime contracts in Nigeria are crucial for efficiently resolving conflicts that may arise between parties involved in maritime transactions. Given the complexities and international nature of maritime trade, various dispute resolution mechanisms are available to address disputes promptly and effectively. Some of the primary mechanisms used in Nigeria:

  1. Negotiation and Mediation: Negotiation and mediation are commonly utilized dispute resolution methods in maritime contracts. Parties may attempt to resolve disputes through direct negotiation or with the assistance of a neutral mediator. Negotiation allows parties to discuss their concerns, explore potential solutions, and reach a mutually acceptable agreement without resorting to formal legal proceedings. Mediation involves the intervention of a trained mediator who facilitates communication between the parties and helps them find a resolution. Negotiation and mediation offer flexibility, confidentiality, and cost-effectiveness compared to litigation or arbitration.
  1. Arbitration: Arbitration is a widely used alternative dispute resolution mechanism in maritime contracts in Nigeria. Parties may include arbitration clauses in their contracts, specifying that disputes will be resolved through arbitration rather than traditional court litigation. The Arbitration and Conciliation Act governs arbitration proceedings in Nigeria, providing a legal framework for the conduct of arbitrations and enforcement of arbitral awards. Arbitration offers advantages such as party autonomy, procedural flexibility, and neutrality of arbitrators. International arbitration institutions like the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) are commonly chosen for resolving maritime disputes.
  1. Litigation: Litigation remains a viable option for resolving maritime disputes, particularly when arbitration or other alternative methods are not feasible or effective. The Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime matters in Nigeria, including disputes related to ship arrests, cargo claims, maritime liens, and insurance disputes. Litigation in court provides parties with legal remedies, including injunctions, declaratory relief, and monetary damages. However, court litigation may be time-consuming, costly, and subject to procedural complexities.
  1. Expert Determination: Expert determination involves appointing a qualified expert to resolve specific technical or factual disputes in maritime contracts. The expert's decision is binding on the parties and may cover issues such as vessel condition assessments, cargo quality disputes, or technical compliance matters. Expert determination offers a streamlined and specialized approach to resolving disputes, particularly those requiring technical expertise or industry-specific knowledge.
  • Hybrid Dispute Resolution Methods: Parties may opt for hybrid dispute resolution methods that combine elements of negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation to suit their specific needs. For example, "med-arb" involves starting with mediation and transitioning to arbitration if mediation fails to achieve a resolution. Hybrid methods offer flexibility and customization, allowing parties to tailor the dispute resolution process to the unique circumstances of their dispute.


Maritime contracts are the backbone of the maritime industry in Nigeria. Understanding the essential elements and legal issues arising in these contracts is crucial for businesses operating in this sector. From ship charter parties to bills of lading and freight contracts, each type of contract has its own unique requirements and potential challenges. By staying informed and equipped with the knowledge necessary to navigate the complexities of maritime contracts, businesses can ensure smooth transactions and safeguard their interests. Seeking legal advice and staying updated with recent developments are essential steps to protect your business in the dynamic world of maritime contracts in Nigeria.











The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

See More Popular Content From

Mondaq uses cookies on this website. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies as set out in our Privacy Policy.

Learn More