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Covid-19: Why Terminal Operators Didn’t Suspend Demurrage Charges

Covid-19: Why Terminal Operators Didn't Suspend Demurrage Charges

* They ignored the directive for one week before Buhari’s order – APFFLON

* We didn’t get approval from STOAN to waive charges – TICT

By Kenneth Jukpor

Following widespread criticisms that terminal operators in Lagos ports refused to comply with the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) directive to suspend demurrage charges, Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC) has explained circumstances that made the operators to neglect  the order.

Speaking with MMS Plus on this development, the Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello observed that President Mohammadu Buhari’s directive that the Lagos ports remain operational marred the directive to suspend charges.

Bello stated that the Council’s ability to secure approval for the banks to commence services and freight forwarders exemption from the lockdown which resulted to continuous port operations, overruled the call to suspend charges on demurrage.

According to him, since the approval for all operators at the ports have been secured, there was no hindrance to cargo evacuation, consequently, there wasn’t need to suspend charges.

This position, however, doesn’t explain why the terminal operators were unwilling to suspend their charges prior to President Buhari’s address on the pandemic as they continued collecting the charges five days before the President’s address.

MMS Plus newspaper obtained proof of payment on demurrage charges up till Monday, March 30th, 2020 as AP Moller Terminal (APMT), Tin Can Island Container Terminal (TICT), others neglected NPA orders.

NPA made the call as an initiative to relieve the burden on port users following the raging Covid-19 pandemic which has placed immense pressure on business activities across the globe.

NPA stated that with effect from Monday March 23rd, all terminal operators should suspend all applicable terminal storage fees on consignments (demurrage) for an initial period of twenty-one days.

Although President Mohammadu Buhari later gave approval for port activities in Lagos ports to continue as he declared a lockdown in Lagos from 11pm on Monday March 30th; the terminal operators had already flouted the directive for one week.

Speaking with MMS Plus newspaper, the President of Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON), Mr. Frank Ogunojemite said, “the NPA directive should have been respected as it was based on the ongoing national disaster caused by coronavirus which is a global pandemic”

Ogunojemite argued that even without the NPA directive, the terminal operators should be willing to waive off demurrage as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at such trying times.

“We are still complaining that it takes more than 15 days to get goods out of the port and clamouring for an expansion in free demurrage period. Yet, these operators can’t comply with a simple directive given in the interest of the nation”, he added.

When contacted, the External Affairs Manager, AP Moller Terminal, Mr. Daniel Odibe, told our correspondent that he was away from the office and unable to respond.

It should be noted that APMT had shown responsiveness to donate N100million to the federal government in the fight against Covid-19. This, however, has been described by industry observers as show-biz as the giant shipping company failed to comply with a directive that tested its altruism, Ogunojemite further stated.

Also speaking on the challenges with port operations during the lockdown, APFFLON boss, agreed that banks at the ports hardly opened throughout the week.

“I took my time to go round the Tin Can and Apapa Ports and the banks weren’t working. Most of the ATM machines weren’t functioning. The business of freight forwarding also requires large sums and banks would have to be operational to do such transactions,” he told our correspondent.

An official at Tin Can Island Container Terminal (TICT) also gave a shocking remark when he told our correspondent that terminal operators were expecting a directive from the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) in order to suspend the charges.

“We expected NPA to have discussed with STOAN before going public. As it is, we are waiting for a directive from STOAN on this issue”, a top management staff of TICT said.

Despite being aware of the NPA directive, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr. Stanley Ezenga stated that he wasn’t aware of any terminal operator that complied.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, Shipping and Terminal Operations Committee (SATOC), NAGAFF, Elder Ugochukwu Nnadi lamented that some corporate bodies are bent on thwarting the directives of President Buhari.

His words; “I just visited PIL and ARKAS shipping company. I can report authoritatively that their offices are closed. I further engaged the security men at the gate and they told me categorically that the companies will not open. Our members equally reported that banks within Apapa are not working. How can freight forwarders effect the documentation, release and payment of duty for their consignment if these bodies are not working?”

However, he observed that some shipping companies have asked agents to submit their original bill of lading for the release of their cargo even before the arrival of the consignment so that it could be processed in advance.

“I have been receiving calls from various quarters asking me what the associations are doing about the demurrage being charged by Shipping companies and terminal operators despite NPA directive that demurrage be suspended for two weeks. We are all aware that despite the fact that freight forwarders are ready and willing to work and take delivery of their cargoes, the banks are not open for them to pay the duties and relevant charges. NAGAFF will take up the issue with shipping companies and terminal operators”, he added.

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