This week’s edition of Shippers’ Guide describes the methods employed by port users to monitor the activities of shipping companies and terminal operators, in this interview with Ifeoma Oguamanam of MMS Plus weekly, the Chairman, Shipping Company and Terminal Operators Committee, Mr. Pius Ujubuonu who is also a member of the Association Of Nigerian Customs Licensed Agents(ANLCA), educates us more:
How do you describe the relationship between terminal operators and agents?
Terminal operators and the shipping companies offer services to agents and agents are the consumers of the services offered by these companies.
Even at the point of friction, both of us have no choice but to articulate and resolve our differences because we must consume the services of terminal operators and shipping companies and without us it will be hard for them to stay in business like wise we, so we complement each other and we are partners in progress as long as services are properly rendered our relationship remains cordial and friendly.
What is this committee that you are the chairman all about?
It is a 9 member monitoring group that checks the quality of services being delivered by terminal service providers like the terminal operators and shipping companies. We ascertain their readiness and level of preparedness to attend to our members, we monitor the problems they create in handling their customers and what problems we view them as creating in handling cargoes in comparison with international best practices.
Anywhere we find things not going right the way they should, we usually point these things out to them or the authority that we serve. So we are a mini advocacy and monitoring group ensuring that the right service, attitude, action and behavior are brought to bear in the process of serving our members. So this committee monitors the services delivery of all the shipping companies and terminal operators in the whole Nigeria and we report to the president of ANLCA.
What qualifies a member to be on this committee?
Most primarily you must be a member of ANLCA and you must be a licensed agent, if you are a member of ANLCA you are naturally a licensed agent or you work with a licensed agency, you cannot be a member of ANLCA without being a genuine port user, other qualification is cognitive experience, members on the committee must understand the trade they are monitoring as regards its operations here and world best practices as well, to effectively monitor trade facilitation process and be able to identify what is not rightly done as well as be able to recommend a solution.
Also information in terms of educational qualification is not a determinant even as it is important but the depth of knowledge you have in the trade is a precondition for membership.
What limitation has been observed that shipping companies cause in terminal operations?
One of the major problems that shipping companies have with the exception of Maesrk Line is the problem of automation, there are some shipping companies go to, you will have to queue for some hours before you can get your debit note and make payments and you will still have to wait on a queue to get your receipt issued.
When they go on break the whole operations on their side stands still, it is closed to customers, this applies to almost all the shipping lines, during that break time they stop rendering services and we have recommended that those in the department of customers service especially in the area of container release and container negotiation, during break time there should be those who will go earlier, when they return the ones on sit can go so that there will be 24hours service delivery, since we have found out that sometimes we lose a whole two hours working period and before they settled down there is congestion.
There is also the area of documentation; some of these workers are not experienced because they raise certain queries that ordinarily should not have been raised.
For instance, sometimes their staff will question the Pre-Arrival Assessment report (PAAR), number rather than concentrated on the content of the bill of laden which is their primary responsibility, once the name of the consignee in the negotiating document agrees with the name in the manifest I don’t think there is need looking into what should be the responsibilities of customs.
In this area of delay that you observed, what recommendation has your committee made?
It is one thing to make recommendations and brings it to the knowledge of the shipping company, and terminal operators and another thing for them to respond. There are a lot things that have been harmonized.
We also noticed that the terminal operators run their operations like a cartel, there is no competition between them because they have an association where they decide what they do.
Primarily, the government concessioned the ports to offer competitive charges that will make users of ports services prefer a terminal against another, but what we see is that they have formed an association. So the mission of the port concession has not been achieved in this respect.
We have also discovered that most of the terminal operators and shipping companies live extravagantly and they have no respect or regard for the Nigerian public. Relevant authorities know and I want to believe that with time there will be improvement in all these areas mention.
Has your committee generated any report that has been implemented to affect service delivery?
Yes, earlier before now most shipping companies were charging N250,000 for container refunds but through our committee we were able to engage them to the extent that it was reduced to N150,000 for 40ft containers local use, that is, within Lagos, between Lagos and Ogun state.
We have been able to make some terminal companies like Ports and Cargo Handling Company always ensure that cargos are released to importers as much as the importer does not owe the terminal instead of turning people back to go and pay shipping company.
So we do not lobby for terminal operators or shipping companies, our primary concern is in the interest of the freight forwarding industry as a whole, and not to ANLCA members alone.