Sir Sam Epiah is the managing director of Cloverleaf Shipping Limited, a shipping agency and logistics support services company. He is a board of trustee member of the Bayelsa,Rivers States Shippers Association. In this encounter with MMS Plus, Sam bares his mind onthe national fleet, Rotterdam rules ratification, cargo sourcing,among others.
What do you consider as the benefits of the new Rotterdam rules to shippers, if they are ratified because some shippers have complaints?
Shippers do have reservations, but when you compare it to the current rules you find out that it has been expanded to accommodate some of the complaints of shippers. For instance, the door to door delivery is an advantage to the shipper and the rules can also help improve our coastal shipment. It is also an improvement on the performing party at the port, bringing liability upon them (like the terminal operators and stevedores). These are some of the benefits that shippers can have but as I said in my presentation, we still have issues as it concerns the consignee such as the release of bill of lading by the shipper without the consignee’s consent. The position of shippers is that the shipper in Europe and the shipping line cannot just release a cargo that has been consigned to a consignee without the consent of the consignee. If A is mentioned in the bill of lading as the consignee and the shipper wants to change it to B, A should be aware to agree because he must have made some financial commitment. Therefore, he could lose his money if he isn’t carried along. We talked about this aspect and we hope that these issues would be looked into before the ratification is concluded, but it is a clear improvement on what we used to have in the past.
Looking at the local content angle, when you have door- to- door services for instance, they determine who they want to sub-contract jobs to and in case they decide not to sub-contract they will do it themselves. What is the fate of the freight forwarders?
Freight forwarders would always come in. I don’t know the aspect of freight forwarding that you are looking at. In the Customs clearance for instance, freight forwarders are there to do it except if such carriers have licences to do it themselves. Some of them are clearing directly but they are also sub-contracting them. Even if they are clearing them, when you check their licences it is not really the name of the company you see.
I think freight forwarders still have a role to play and whatever services such people carry out on behalf of the carrier, they are tied to the liabilities of the carrier which is the maritime third-party. So the freight forwarder still has a role to play in my opinion.
Where does fourth party logistics come in?
The train, trucks, road haulage, etc., are all maritime third parties (performing parties) because they are playing one role or the other in the transportation and delivery of the cargo.
Are we good to roll with the Rotterdam rules?
Well, from the legal angle you can see that a lot of issues are still there to be put in place for us to be able to effectively switch into the new rule. Once these things have been taken care of, operationally it should be okay.
Again, there is this issue of carrier nations been reluctant because they know that the Rotterdam rules favours the shippers. However, shippers are also saying that the protection for the carriers is too much. During the presentation, I mentioned that the carriers have 15 protection clauses while the carriers have only 5 in the present rules. Although, they have explained that it cannot be 15 each because the carriers are playing a bigger role in the movement of cargo than the shipper. So it is not going to be the same number of protection.
How would you describe the transport sector in the last one year?
From the maritime perspective, I think there is nothing to commend because several companies including multinationals that use to fare much better are currently struggling while, a lot of the Nigerian companies no longer exist. So, from a general point of view, I think our maritime policies need to be looked into critically in order to involve indigenous players in the carriage of cargo especially government project cargo. We can start from there. At the moment, we don’t have vessels to compete with the Europeans but we can start from somewhere. Even if we are not buying out -rightly, we can start from chattering. As a child, you start from crawling, standing, walking before running.
A lot of the multinationals in the world started small. Most ship owners started from chattering and later expanded. We can start something to be able to improve our maritime sector. We are far from expectations.
Now that the nation is talking about bringing national fleet, how do you see that?
It is a welcome development. The question is what arrangements have been made to support this national carrier in terms of providing cargoes because without cargo the vessels are useless.
Do you think the national fleet can get cargo because they are talking about having a guarantee from federal, state and local governments for cargo?
How are the foreign nationals getting cargo? Aren’t there cargoes coming into Nigeria- we could also use them for export. It is just a matter of starting from somewhere. We use to have cargo support or cargo sharing policy in the past but the United Nations came up with a policy to say freedom. Notwithstanding, there are countries like China that protect their indigenous carriers and support them with cargo. Nothing stops us from going back to the old conventions to ensure that certain amount of cargo is left for Nigerians. We can do that especially on government projects like the railway. Millions of cargo would come from that project and certain percentage should be carried by Nigerians. China may be financing the project but it isn’t free because Nigeria would still have to pay back so Nigerians should be allowed to carry the cargo.