Shippers’ Council Begins Enforcement
- STOAN Reacts
Terminal operators at the nation’s port are said to have continued to flout government directives despite a court ruling directing them to revert to the government approved terminal progressive storage charges.
Disturbed by this seeming impunity, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has concluded that it would revoke all concession contracts at the ports if elected at the forth-coming presidential election.
The Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos had on 17th December, 2014 dismissed two suits filed by a group of terminal operators and shipping lines agents challenging the power of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to regulate their activities at the ports. These suits were filed separately. The court had declared the Shipping Line Agency Charges (SLAC) illegal and directed the shipping companies to refund all monies collected in the name of SLAC from 2006 to date; vacated the ex-parte injunction earlier obtained against the notices given to shipping companies and terminal operators by Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC).
The court ruling further reverted the terminal progressive storage charges to the rates approved by government on 1st May, 2009; approved that shipping companies and shipping agencies should refund container deposits within ten working days after the return of the empty containers.
It equally approved that container cleaning and maintenance charges should not be more than one thousand five hundred naira per container, while increasing free period prior-demurrage from five days to ten days.
However, findings by MMS Plus weekly revealed that some operators in the maritime industry believe that there is a calculated move by members of Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) to use court injunctions to compel NSC to remain ineffective in its regulatory duties at the ports.
So far, the entire terminal operators have not reverted to the 2009 government’s approved rates.
As at last week, it was gathered that terminal operators still give only three days as pre-demurrage free days as against five days approved by the government.
Details gathered showed that the progressive storage charges are charged as follows: the first one day is N1, 800 as against N1, 500 approved by the government, while the second day attracts N8, 800, the third day attracts N12, 000; all for 40 feet containers.
In the same vein, 20 feet container is charged N900 for the first day after free pre-demurrage days, while N4,400 is paid for the second day and N6, 000 for the third day.
Confirming this development, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Uburu Maritime Services Limited, Mr. David Pius, said, “after the court ruling in favour of Shippers’ Council, asking them (terminal operators) to go back to statues quo of 2009, they have not gone back. As I speak to you, we paid the new rate on a debit note. I don’t know why they have not gone back to the old rate. Is it that they don’t have regard for the ruling of the court?
“I suspect foul play because immediately after the strike embarked upon by the agents late last year at the ports, it was discovered that the terminal operators did not have a change of heart. There was a meeting scheduled by all the freight forwarders to meet at APMT to discuss the problem. All of a sudden, a call came from the Minister of Transport, directing everybody to come to Abuja. And when they got to Abuja the issue bothering us was not discussed. That is a clear indication that there is a foul play. May be, money has exchanged hands and all the leaders of the various associations of freight forwarding declined to discuss our problem. Even when the court has ruled in favour of Shippers’ Council, the leadership of the associations have not done anything. We want the Shippers’ Council to enforce the ruling of the court.”
In another development, it was gathered that Shippers’ Council could not enforce the judgment because STOAN has re-appealed the judgment. In an advertorial, this week, STOAN stated that the Council’s advert is against the run of court rules. “The law in Nigeria is that where, as here, there is an appeal against a court decision and a motion for stay of execution is filed, none of the parties must do anything to frustrate the hearing of the appeal until the application has been heard and determined, one way or the other.
“The publication deliberately concealed the fact that the said judgment is subject of a pending appeal and that our clients also filed an application for a stay of execution of the judgment pending the determination of the appeal,” it stated.
Shippers’ Council basking in the euphoria of the victory as being the Economic Regulator for the ports, last week, in an advertorial urged all port users “who are being charged illegally, in contravention of this judgment” to submit to the Council evidence of such illegal charges including invoices, payment receipt, etc as well as copies of the shipping documents, including Bill of Lading.
An APC Chieftain, however, confided in MMS Plus weekly that the People Democratic Party (PDP) led Federal government is condoning the mess and impunity at the port because most of the party stalwarts are shareholders in the concessioned terminals, saying that General Mohammed Buhari’s led government would revoke the port concession and ensure that the rules of engagement are adhered to.