22 September 2013, lagos – Worried by increasing congestion, allegations of arbitrary charges by terminal operators and delay in goods delivery at the Tin Can Island port, the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, has intervened in a bid to find a lasting solution to the crisis, reports Francis Ugwoke
The past few months have been very traumatic for importers and their agents doing business at the Tin Can Island port. Apart from the chaotic traffic situation on the road leading to the port, freight forwarders have been having nightmare locating their containers and taking delivery out of the seaport. Both terminal operators and service providers have been blamed for this problem. The terminal operator, Tin Can Island Container Terminal Limited (TICT) and Cotecna Limited which is providing the Destination Inspection services have all been blamed.
While the terminal operator is being accused of failing to provide enough cargo handling equipment, Cotecna is also being accused of not doing enough to scan containers passed on to them in good time. The other issue is that the terminal operator is also suffering space issue. The volume of cargo it is handling is more than the space the company has for the goods. The result has been congestion in the terminal. This is in addition to increasing demurrage.
The importers and freight forwarders are arguing that it is wrong for the company to be demanding payment of demurrage under such circumstances that are clearly caused by both the terminal operator and the Destination Inspection Agent (DIA). Worried about this development, the Nigeria Shippers Association (NSA), which is an umbrella association of importers had filed a petition to the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), a government agency that is empowered to protect the interest of the importers involved in international trade.
The current situation at the TICT terminal is one in which containers belonging to importers which ought to have been cleared between three weeks to one month ago are still in the port. They are trapped. They are waiting to be positioned for examination. The owners do not know when it will be their turn. Incidentally, demurrage is being incurred.
Many importers have in the past few months been complaining of the delay it takes before they can clear their goods out of the terminal. The freight forwarders say it takes more than two weeks just to position containers for examination. They are particularly bitter because according to some of them their importers are usually not ready to advance more money when the goods enter demurrage. What it means is that the freight forwarder is left with the responsibility of paying for the demurrage.
To avoid this problem, many of them have had to resort to bribing some personnel in the terminal to bring their containers forward for examination. Those who go into this arrangement say they pay between N20,000 and N50,000 for 20ft and 40ft containers respectively. This allegation was however denied by the Terminal Manger, of Tin Can Island Container Terminal Limited, Mr Richards Akingbolu, who told THISDAY that his management has been working towards ensuring efficient delivery system in the port.
A source close to TICT told THISDAY that part of the problem could be blamed on Cotecna Ltd who is being accused of not scanning as much as the number of containers passed each day to the company.
The comptroller of Customs, Tin Can Port, Mr Jibrin Zakare told THISDAY last week that the problem of delay in clearing at the port has been as a result of TICT not having enough space for the volume of cargo coming to the port. He also said that Cotecna appears overwhelmed by the number of containers being passed on daily basis for scanning. Zakare said that his Command at a meeting with the two service providers on the issue decided that some of the containers should be moved to other terminals.
Another measure is to begin 24hour service in the port to be able to deal with the volume of cargo trapped in the system. Following the problem, the Customs Command has been faced with numerous requests from importers and their agents asking for re-routing of the containers from scanning to physical examination.
Intervention by Shippers Council
About two weeks ago, the Nigerian Shippers Council called a meeting of terminal operators and importers in their Park Lane office. The meeting was based on the petition from NSA against the management of TICT. The details of the petition were not clear, but sources said they were not unconnected with delay in clearing at the port, and what importers regard as arbitrary charges, including allegation of settlement of some personnel at the terminal for positioning of containers for examination, demurrage, among others.
It was gathered that during the meeting, the association complained that the terminal operator (TICT) has been collecting demurrage on containers from its members even when it was clear that the importers were not responsible for the delay in clearing their goods. The association argued that it could be so painful if terminal operators who failed to provide enough cargo handling equipment to position their goods for examination insist that the importers pay demurrage.
At the meeting attended by General Secretary of the shippers, Sir Jonathan Nicol, and representative of other terminal operators, including Akingbolu, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello, explained the council had to intervene to ensure efficiency at the ports.
In his opening remark before starting the closed door meeting with the warring parties, Bello said it was wrong for the two to be at war with each other, since they need to work together to achieve common interest.
“This meeting is to bring the two together for mutual interest. The two cannot survive without each other. It is to achieve equilibrium. The provider of services need the users , just like the users need the providers of services. So there should be harmony”, he said According to him, the council intervened in the crisis as part of the statutory responsibilities of the organisation, adding that understanding reached between the two parties would fasten clearing process at the ports. Bello assured that it was the determination of the council to ensure that the ports achieve efficiency in goods delivery.
The stakeholders had resolved during the meeting that all fast track containers should be delivered direct. The other decision was that rent on containers should start after the vessel has sailed and container identified. As at the time of filing this report, Bello was expected to lead a team of his management staff and other stakeholders to visit the Tin Can Island port to assess the situation. Part of the visit was also to ensure that the resolutions reached about two weeks ago are being implemented at the port.
He expressed optimism that with dialogue and strategic measures in place, the crisis that importers have been facing at the Tin Can Island port would soon be addressed.
– This Day