More than 29 days after the Federal Government’s directive, terminal operators and shipping firms are yet to comply with the order to waive demurrage and rents on imported cargoes.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), had directed that all terminal operators should suspend all applicable terminal storage fees (demurrage) on consignments for an initial period of 21 days effective March 23. It also extended the demurrage-free period by another 14 days from April 13.
In another memo issued on April 8, NPA said it would “grant credit notes commensurate to the rental reliefs granted by the terminal operators to importers within the 21-day free storage period.”
Also, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), had directed all shipping companies to suspend demurrage charges on cargoes during the period of the COVID-19 lockdown effective March 30th.
Executive Secretary, NSC, Hassan Bello, added that demurrage charges during this period should be refunded to the consignee or his authorised agent.
Bello said the suspension of demurrage during this period is an incentive for owners of cargo to accelerate the process of taking delivery of their cargoes.
He warned that: “This suspension of demurrage charges is not an excuse to delay or abandon cargoes at the ports. Erring shippers will be sanctioned in addition to having to pay the demurrage due on their cargoes.”
Meanwhile, clearing agents are worried over operators’ flagrant disobedience of the government’s order to suspend demurrage charges.
The clearing agents in a petition to the Managing Director, NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, said: “As at Monday 20th April 2020, the terminals and shipping companies collect all rents and demurrage from Licensed Customs Agents and refuse to grant the waiver.”
The petition was signed by President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, and dated April 20. It stated: “We hereby draw the attention of the Federal Government to the refusal of terminals operators and shipping companies to waive the demurrage and rents stating from the 23rd March 2020, as issued by NPA and consented to by the presidential task force of COVID 19.
Amiwero however commended NPA for the 21 days waiver and extension to accommodate the period of the lockdown, saying this will bring about stability in the operation of the port, which is opened for skeletal operations.
On the safety of agents, he noted that Licensed Customs Agents are clearly at risk with the daily exposure in continuation of the clearance of goods from the ports at this time of lockdown, without proper protection wares and care by various government agencies.
He, therefore, urged government to assist in the provision of protective wares, shuttle buses within the ports environment and provide relief to take care of the hazard Agents go through daily.
He further stressed the need for coordinated activities for proper direction of social distancing by all port workers, and the provision of water and sanitizer to save guard Agents and other port users.