Seized Vessel Owner Sues Government

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Libellant M/V DZINTARS of St. Kitts and Nevis, a vessel registered under the Liberian flag, has filed a lawsuit against the Liberian government for “illegally” seizing the vessel that was transporting 11 cartons of assorted frozen fish, weighing in at 330,000kg with a market value of US$94,270, from Sierra Leone. The company is seeking a compensation of US$957,348.

The items were intended for delivery to Libellant’s consignee, National Frozen Fish Company in Monrovia.

The “Maritime Action for Damages in personam (Latin for ‘directed toward a particular person’) for Wrong” lawsuit before Civil Law Court ‘A’ demands that the government pay Libellant US$457,348 representing special damages, of which US$250,000 represents loss of revenue and earnings by the company as a direct and proximate result of its detention for ten days – which may increase every day the vessel is detained at the rate of US$25, 000 per day – and US$207,348 for the value of the assorted frozen fish, including a 60 percent markup covering taxes, handling and operational expenses.

The suit also demands US$500,000 for general damages for the unlawful arrest and detention, the reputational damage, the hardship, and inconvenience sustained by the crew of the vessel, totaling US$957,348.

Libellant’s lawyer Benedict Sannoh, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Liberia, alleged that on August 28, the Liberia Coast Guard (of the Ministry of Defense) intercepted and entered the vessel on its way from Sierra Leone; and upon inspection, informed the captain that the vessel was under arrest.

Libellant also claimed that prior to the vessel’s departure from Sierra Leone, the consignee – National Frozen Fish Company in Monrovia, obtained an import permit and declaration from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of the Government of Liberia authorizing the company to import the consignment from Sierra Leone to Liberia.

Besides, the suit claimed that the frozen fish company made a declaration of the consignment to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) of which L$1,921,095 was paid into the Liberian government’s coffers.

“The LRA issued an official vessel and carrier custom clearance certifying that Libellant had completed all customs required procedures as per law and was therefore qualified to be discharged,” Cllr. Sannoh alleged in his lawsuit.

The suit also alleged that instead of bringing Libellant to the Port of Monrovia, the Coast Guard escorted and held the vessel at bay on the sea in the basin outside of the pilot station at the Freeport of Monrovia.

“It has been nearly ten days now since Libellant was arrested and the Coast Guard has failed, neglected and refused to issue an investigative report and findings as to what laws it has violated to warrant its arrest and detention,” the lawsuit claimed.

Meanwhile, Cllr. Sannoh said the “consignment, being perishable, are beginning to perish, the crew on board are falling sick, their supplies depleted and the Libellant agent has been denied access to the vessel.”

He added: “The conduct is not consistent with the reciprocity required of vessels flying the flags of other countries, in particular, considering Liberia as a leading maritime nation.

“To arrest the vessel and keep it in the basin outside the pilot station at the Freeport of Monrovia under its control instead of bringing it to the office of the port with the objective of securing payments as a condition precedent to its release, is tantamount to piracy, a crime under international law.”

The lawsuit further alleged that as a result of the vessel’s illegal 10-day arrest and detention, Libellant has been damaged economically; its business has been disrupted and brought to a halt, resulting in loss of income and profit; and by subjecting its crew to hardship, inconvenience and embarrassment, warrant them the compensation.

The Liberian government is yet to respond to the lawsuit.

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