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Container Vessel

NPA still silent on arbitrary charges by shipping companies

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Surviving importers and agents at the seaports have raised alarm on the reintroduction of congestion surcharge by foreign shipping lines, saying if no intervention is insight, they may shut down port operations.

Before now, several interest groups operating at the ports had made frantic efforts at prevailing on the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to do the needful and intervene accordingly.

However, relief is underway after approaches to relevant government regulatory agencies on the matter.

The Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators of Nigeria (STON), Dr. Mrs. Ify Haastrup, in an interview expressed concerns on the gridlock in Apapa and the resultant congestion at the ports.

In her views, the return of congestion surcharge by shippers is linked to rising cases of vessels  spending longer time than they were expected to stay in Nigeria.

Haastrup revealed that since the port traffic gridlock become unbearable, Nigeria spent $100m on congestion surcharge every year.

This is the first time in 11 years that congestion surcharge would be imposed on importers.

Even before the recent surcharge, last month, shipping companies introduced Port Additional Destination charges, forcing importers to pay N38,000 for  a 20-ft container  and N76,000 for a 40-ft container.

In an interview, an importer based at Auto Spare Parts & Machinery Dealers’ Association (ASPMDA), Lagos Trade fair complex, who pleaded anonymity said “The reintroduction of the congestion surcharge at a time, port access roads are nothing to write home about is a an embarrassment to move made by government in driving ease of doing business at the ports”.

“No importer will hear that his goods have landed and not make efforts to clear them, but the fact remains that access to go and carry your cargoes is becoming impossible due to no fault of any importer but the same government we pay our taxes to.

“Whenever I go to the ports to clear my goods, I cry for my fellow port users because of bad roads. We have been hearing of plans and plans to fix port access roads, but today, they are still in the worst state of disrepair.

“In fact, if the government no longer what us to be in business of import and export, then the best option is to shut down the ports rather than subjecting us to unbearable surcharges by foreign shippers.

The aggrieved importer noted that his association has sent several letters to NPA on the unexplainable charges by foreign shippers and nothing has been done.

Still on the matter, the Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders (SNFF), Dr. Osita Chukwu, described the introduction of the surcharge as against the spirit of ease of doing business at ports which had been variously canvassed by this government and NPA in particular.

According to him, “Issues surrounding the congestion are not the fault of importers but the deplorable situation of the road which made it difficult for people to get their goods out on time or return empty containers”.

“We are at the verge of giving few days ultimatum to the NPA to intervene or we stop work.

“The best option now for the NPA is to prevail on the shipping companies to stop charging for demurrage on containers.

“Under normal circumstances, the shipping companies were supposed to have holding bays, rather they were taking advantage of the traffic situation at the ports access roads which had caused trucks to be in queue for weeks  waiting to get into the ports.

Chukwu gave example with what obtains in Cotonou, saying “In Cotonou port, shipping companies offload cargoes and use their trucks to convey them to importers’ warehouses instead of allowing the importers to go home with the containers”.

“Due to the demurrage charges on containers here in Nigeria, the shipping companies do not refund anything to the importers after they have deposited money. By the time you get there, all your deposits are finished and they will even tell you that you owe them because you have spent all the time on the road trying to get into the port.”

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