19 January 2015, Lagos – Importers and Customs brokers at the weekend criticised terminal operators and shipping companies for continued collection of some shipping charges in violation of the order of a Federal High Court.
The stakeholders specifically accused members of the Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and the Association of Shipping Lines Agency (ALSA) of indulging in unlawful act by collecting the same old shipping charges in utter disregard to the order of the court affirming the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) as the Ports Economic Regulator and upholding its decision to stop collection of the affected charges.
The Court had upheld the decision of the Ports Regulator to reduce the Progressive Storage Charge to the rate approved by the Transport Ministry in 2009 for the terminal operators.
The court also dismissed the case brought against the ports regulator on the policy decision also upheld the reduction by 50 per cent on shipping line agency charge, container cleaning and maintenance charge being collected by shipping companies.
President of Nigerian Shippers’ Association, Jonathan Nicol, said that members of the association were bitter about the action of the shipping service providers, adding that they should not be allowed to continue to break the law.
According to Nikol the members have been advised to compile the illegal charges being collected from them by the affected shipping companies and terminal operators for necessary action at the right time.
He argued that since the shipping companies and terminal operators applied to the court for ‘stay of execution of the order’ after the judgement, they ought to have waited until their application is granted.
He said the court had not sat to consider their prayers in view of the on-going industrial action embarked upon by judicial workers.
He described the action of the shipping service providers as a deliberate violation of the court order.
President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, who described the action of the service providers as flagrant abuse of the law said that such should not be allowed to happen in Nigeria.
Nweke, who said the terminal operators and shipping companies should be called to order, disclosed that the Intelligence Unit of his association would ask every member to put the charges together for necessary action.
“The shipping companies and terminal operators should not act above the law. Such a thing should not be allowed to happen in this country. The port industry is very fragile and we all want a healthy process”, he said.
President of the National Council of Managing Directors’ of Customs Agents (NCMDCA) Mr Lucky Amiwero, who reacted to the development said that the service providers had no legal right to go against the order of the Federal High Court.
Amiwero called on the Shippers’ Council to take immediate action by setting up a committee that will see to the enforcement of the court order, adding that except an urgent action is taken, the service providers would continue with illegality.
He argued that the order of the court should be obeyed until there is another order vacating the earlier one.
He said that the action of the shipping service providers was what had been killing the shipping industry and the national economy.
President of the Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu, who expressed disappointment over the development, said the Ports Regulator should have asked for immediate enforcement of the order of the court.
He said that with this, the order would subsist until the Appeal Court grants a contrary order.
A Maritime lawyer, Mr Emmanuel Ofomata, who spoke on the issue described the action of the terminal operators and shipping companies as an “impunity of the highest order”.
Ofomata said that such behaviour by the service providers cannot be tolerated in advanced countries, adding that government should move fast in enforcing the order of the court.
He described the action as having great consequences on the shipping industry and should be condemned by all and sundry.
Among the decisions by the Ports Regulator was to increase the Container Free Storage Period to seven days as against three days .
This was after carrying out a study in the neighbouring ports of Cotonou, Ghana, Gambia and Cameroun.
The Ports Economic Regulator equally increased Container Demurrage-free days to 10 days, in what stakeholders described as a policy decision in the right direction.
On the Container Deposit, which importers and freight forwarders complained about, the Council directed that henceforth this should be refunded within 10 days after the empties had been returned to the shipping companies.
It warned that failure would attract payment of interest on the outstanding amount of deposit at the Central Bank of Nigeria’s prevailing commercial interest rate until the refund is effected.
The notice issued to the shipping companies and terminal operators was to take effect in November 1, but the Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and the Association of Shipping Lines Agency (ALSA) took the Ports Regulator to court where they all lost.
The Court while upholding the NSC as the Economic Regulator with the right to take decisions, also dismissed the case filed by the service providers.
The judge ordered that the shipping line agency charges (SLAC) should be refunded. This is the same for the terminal operators.
Human right activist and maritime lawyer, Mr Olisa Agbakoba , last week vowed that the terminal operators and shipping companies would be forced to return about N1trillion which is the estimated amount collected illegally from importers at the ports.
Agbakoba expressed concern that the shipping service providers have, over the years, collected illegal charges, a situation which according to him, has made cost of shipping services more expensive than any other country in West Africa.
– This Day