A recent increase in the cargo handling charges by management of Port Terminal Operators Limited in Port Harcourt has sparked criticisms by importers and their freight agents who insist that there is no justification for an increment.
Efforts by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council to compel PTOL to reverse and withdraw the charges have failed as the company proceeded with the increment.
The NPA, acting on petitions and pleas of shippers and freight forwarders, had in late May summoned concerned stakeholders to a meeting where it was decided that PTOL reverse to the old rates. The organisation reportedly complied.
Our correspondent learnt reliably that on Tuesday 6th June, that PTOL management surprisingly reintroduced invoices bearing exorbitant rates to the chagrin of importers and customs agents, a development that has allegedly led to a temporary suspension of berthing meetings by key shipping stakeholders in the port.
Consequently, goods worth billions of naira may have been stranded in the terminal since big players such as Dangote, Dufil, Royal Salt, BUA, are frequent users of the port.
A shipping agent who patronises the terminal regularly said on the condition of anonymity, that the new rates not only violate laid down rules of engagement and stipulated yearly percentage increment but it is an abuse of trust and customership which may lead to importers diverting their vessels or cargo elsewhere henceforth.
“How do you want people to survive or cope with the resultant increment in cost of goods and service that this increment will portend? PTOL suddenly changed a bill of N6million to close to N50 million for me, is that not some 900 percent raise? The same thing goes for other massive bulk cargo importers. With Naira value depreciating daily, you now add these exorbitant charges plus the new official exchange rate by the Nigeria Customs Service. Things will certainly not augur well for both the rich and the poor and the economy that is already weak. If care is not taken, most importers might dump PTOL and return to Lagos,” the aggrieved source lamented.
According to the source, PTOL’s inability to improve on infrastructure in the port doesn’t support the movement for an increment, even as he wondered why PTOL could not respect both the NPA who are the Landlord and the Shippers’ Council, the port economic regulator.
In a recent memo, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council warned that port handling charges review would be done on a port by port performance basis and not unilaterally by the port operators.
According to the memo, “Unilateral increase in charges/introduction of the new tariff headings and charges constitutes a direct disregard of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Local Shipping Charges on Import and Export) Regulation 1997 and Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Port Economic) Regulations 2015.
Consequently, all service providers are by this notice reminded that: Review of charges/introduction of new tariffs headings and charges shall be subject to the guidelines provided by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson of PTOL, Mrs. Justina Godwin, argued that it is ridiculous to allege that the management had increased charges by 900 percent.
“This is not true at all. We only increase charges by 5 per cent whereas others have increased by much more. We even cancelled arrears. Please endeavour to come here and verify by yourself. We don’t work in isolation, we work, in respect to government laid down rules,” she said.
She, however, admitted that stevedoring charges per tonnage have been increased which may add to lump sums for large volumes importers.
Reacting to the issue, the President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Chief Increase Uche said a 900 percent increase in handling charges by PTOL could not be true but he is aware that PTOL and other terminals in the seaports in the country had submitted a review proposal in their handling charges to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, to which the Council is yet to give a nod.
Chief Increase Uche stressed that PTOL and others, for many years, have not increased their charges and doing so now could be justified considering a constant rise in the costs of handling equipment, electricity bill, labour salaries/wages and other production factors.