* Shippers’ Council keeps mum, Bollore fingered
By Kenneth Jukpor
Despite the much publicized campaign for enhanced ease of doing business at Nigerian ports, the reality seems to be the opposite as epitomized by the over 400 imported containers seized by Ports and Cargo Handling Services for over three months.
The import-bound consignments for the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) had been jettisoned at Ports and Cargo at the Tin Can Island Port (TCIP) as the terminal operator eyed storage charges amounting to N468 million at N13,000 per day for 400 containers in three months.
While the terminal operator claimed that there were no barges to move the consignments to KLT since November last year, over 400 containers scheduled for transfer to Bollore Logistics company in Kirikiri were abandoned as pleas and petitions by freight agents and their importers were greeted with silence and compromise by the terminal operator.
Aggrieved by the development, freight agents practising at the KLT in Lagos State protested at Ports and Cargo, a subsidiary of SIFAX Group, for seizing the containers at its terminal and demanding storage charges when the cargoes were destined for KLT.
Perplexed freight forwarders under the aegis of Association of Registered Freight Forwarders in Nigeria (AREFFN) stormed SIFAX headquarters and Bollore Logistics to express their dissatisfaction during the penultimate week.
Earlier, the freight forwarding group sent several petitions to the terminal operator and the nation’s port economic regulator, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) before embarking on a peaceful protest, while individuals had also addressed letters to the terminal and NSC months earlier.
While Ports & Cargo accused Bollore of not bringing barges to take delivery of the containers and scarcely providing low capacity barges to take 15-20 containers when the terminal had over 60 containers for such trip on every occasion, Bollore blamed the terminal operator for being nonchalant and unwilling to load the containers.
In a frightening twist, one week after the protest by freight agents at Ports and Cargo, over 200 of the affected containers have been transferred to KLT, a feat which the terminal operator couldn’t achieve in three months prior to the remonstration.
However, industry observers have frowned at this practice, stating that some of the affected cargoes could have been items for the yuletide season or perishable goods that may have expired or be close to the expiring dates.
Although Ports and Cargo has started discharging the cargoes, the company is holding out for some undisclosed funds for keeping the containers at the terminal over the period, whereas freight agents claim that the containers were originally destined to KLT.
Giving the terminal’s account of the incident, the General Manager, Corporate Communications, SIFAX Group, Mr. Muyiwa Akande said: “We have this issue with some of agents because of congestion here and there. The challenges still remain but we are trying to resolve them. Barge operation is something that is still new to everybody and there are issues of delay in transfer to KLT.”
“When the agents came to express their displeasure for the delay and they were addressed from the head office to calm them down. We took them to have a meeting with the Managing Director and the Executive Director in charge of Operations and the issue has been amicably resolved.”
Muyiwa noted that before the protest, the company’s Executive Director for Operations had a meeting with the Bolloré to understand the challenges and explore solutions.
“Our conclusion is that we will provide a window for them to come and take away all their cargoes and that has been agreed. They are happy about it, so that the problem has been put to rest. They will have allocated date when they can evacuate all of their cargoes,” Muyiwa said.
He, however, argued that it is not the responsibility of the terminal operator to provide the barges.
“It’s like you’re saying for those who clear their containers it is our duty to go and arrange trucks to clear it. We can’t do that, except they want us to do it for them but it’ll come at a cost. Our role is terminal operations, except for the shipping lines that we have an agreement with to transfer containers, but if we don’t have that agreement it is the duty of the agents to look for a truck to evacuate after clearing,” he said.
When asked if there will be charges for moving the cargoes, especially those destined to KLT, he said; “Freight agents will make provision in terms of payment for this and we will also let them know our final decision whether it will be zero payment for demurrage or whether we reach an agreement to meet halfway. We are yet to decide on this, but we will get back to them in one month.”
Speaking with our correspondent on the issue, the Chairman of KLT Chapter of AREFFN, Mr. Jude Chukwuka said the exercise was done to correct the anomaly being perpetuated by Ports & Cargo and Bollore Logistics.
However, he noted that almost 200 containers have been transferred to KLT one week after the protest, even as he stated that NSC has written to the group to suspend the planned protest against Lagos and Niger Shipping Agencies Limited (LANSAL) over similar anomalies.
After meeting with managerial representatives from both companies, he concluded that both organizations weren’t operating in harmony as there were sharp differences in their postulations which should have been averted via proper dialogue.
The Secretary of the branch, Mr. Stephen Chukwuka accused the management of Ports and Cargo of intentionally electing not to do their duty of effectively facilitating the speedy transfer of the containers from their terminal because of selfish reasons.
He said that management of the concessionaire deliberately delay cargo clearance in order for the cargoes to incur demurrage of N13,000 per container a day.
The Chapter scribe also accused the management of moving their containers from one terminal to the other and making them to pay the costs.
He went further also to accuse the management of extorting from them the sum of N40,000 for every container that leaves the terminal as he advised that they put an immediate stop to these sharp practices.
Meanwhile, industry observers have frowned at Ports & Cargo’s strategy of demanding storage charges for goods yet to reach the destination as requested by importers and freight agents.
A similar challenge is also facing Inland Dry Port operators in the country as seaport terminals collect all charges on IDP bound cargoes instead of waiving the fares.
The Port Manager of Kaduna Inland Dry Port, Mr. Rotimi Raimi lamented that importers are being charged for storage and other charges at seaport terminals on cargoes destined to Kaduna IDP.
Raimi, who was speaking during an exclusive chat with MMS Plus newspaper last week, called on NSC to compel terminals to quit the frivolous charges which duplicates the payments that should be made at the dry ports.
Meanwhile, Shippers’ Council has been criticized for not doing its part to regulate these economic aspects of port operations as terminal operators stifle port business at the expense of Nigerians.
Efforts to reach the Director, Regulatory Services at the Council, Ms. Ifeoma Ezedinma were futile until press time as our correspondent sought the Council’s responses on these queries.