COVID-19: Stakeholders Call for Probe of Terminals, Shipping Companies Over Illegal Charges

Some stakeholders have called for probe over continuous charges at the nation’s Ports despite the directive by the Federal Government for its suspension following the lockdown as a result of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

The Federal Government in its bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19 took different measures including closure of airport and land borders leaving only seaport operational.

As a result of the situation, the Nigerian Ports Authority, ordered suspension of all applicable terminal storage fees while Nigerian Shippers’ Council, as well gave the order stopping demurrage to meet the objective of Federal Government’s ease of doing business at this trying period. 

Despite the directives of fees suspension, terminal operators were alleged to be charging rents while shipping companies were collecting demurrage on consignments. 

According to National President, Association of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Chief Lucky Amiwero, continuous charges when the government had ordered its stoppage, calls for probe especially at a time when the lockdown had prevented his members to gain access to the ports. 

“It’s illegal to charge rent and demurrage while government has suspended the payment during the lockdown. 

The shipping companies and the terminals are not expected to charge because they have their original charges. Government does not say they should stop that, but for storage charges in terms of rent and demurrage the storage charges are those ones that when you have a container, demurrage is charged on container, while the floor where the container is placed is the rent being charged.

Both the terminals and the shipping companies criminally rejected the Federal Government’s directive”.

“I have communicated to the presidency and we are taking them up. We are taking it procedurally. NPA supposed to monitor too. We have submitted the first batch of noncompliance to NPA and we will do the same to Shippers council”.

“The banks are not working.  There are many of the procedures you have to do in the port that need the bank and shipping companies, and for two to three weeks have not opened and these people are still charging fees. And what government is saying is that for the period of the lockdown stop charging”.

Chief Amiwero noted that despite the fact that the total lockdown has been relaxed, Federal Government should extend the suspension of charges as ban on interstate transportation is in force and this would make it difficult for agents to have access to the ports.

“This is a difficult time for my members because they can’t access the port. Some of them are living in Sango, some in Badagry as well as other parts of the country and you don’t have public transport. Full ports activities are not in place at all due to lockdown.  There is need for holistic review of port operations in the country”.

An importer, Mr Remi Bello who also lamented the hardship the development has caused, said apart from rents and demurrage, Nigeria Customs still increased tariffs being paid on goods.

“The country is in lockdown due to COVID-19 which is pandemic worldwide.

We are importers, I have like 8 cars and you said you will be counting demurrage. Under normal circumstances, it should not be. I’m from Oyo State, people will be travelling from different parts of the country and police are everywhere, how do I go get my cars? “

“The customs also increased the tariff apart from the demurrage. Who does that during a period like this, when the economy is in shambles? “

Corroborating Mr Bello’s claim, an Ibadan based car dealer, Mr Kayode Osilaja who emphasized that the increased tariff, which was without any prior notice, would affect the prices of vehicles.

“Government should have informed us before regarding the increment in the tariff.  Government just came up with the new rate as a surprise. With the present lockdown, there shouldn’t have been such increment now. It’s a wrong time”. 

“There is low sale generally. Even, before the lockdown, people have been buying cars as expected. Now, with the new tariff, cars will be expensive again. The federal government should reverse the increment”.

Reacting, Nigeria Customs Command PRO, Tincan Island Port, Mr Uche Ejesieme said the adjustment in tariff was statutory due to change in exchange rate.

“On the alleged increased tariff, the truth is that our Common External Tariff remains the guide for application of value and it has not changed except for few amendments.

There is also a slight adjustment in exchange rate for duty purposes.

That on its own does not amount to increase in tariff, but an adjustment which is targeted at reflecting the global economic reality at hand now”.

“The increase is a function of slight adjustment in exchange rate by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

 Abinitio, last two years, it was 306 per dollar, mid last year, it came to 326 and now it’s 361. It’s actually not something intended to frustrate the importers or businessmen. It’s just in line with the global reality”.

Efforts to speak with Commercial Manager, Tin Can Island Container Terminal Limited, Mr. Kapur Pawan to respond to the allegations of collection of charges during the lockdown were not successful.

Mr. Pawan did not pick his calls but asked to drop message through text which was done with 2 reminders within 5 days without any reply.

Commenting, General Manager, Corporate Affairs of Nigerian Ports Authority, Mr Jatto Adams who confirmed there have been reports of non-compliance to government’s directive, said the agents had been asked to supply documentary evidence and maintained that erring terminals would be sanctioned, if fees were charged during the lockdown.

“There have been speculations from the agents anyway and what we told them is that it’s a directive by the Federal Government through the Nigerian Ports Authority which the terminal operators have to abide with.

By and large, we asked the agents to give us documentary evidence to show that they were being charged. The document is terminal delivery note, which we want them to submit to confirm whether they were being charged or not. I understand the agents have been able to get some documents to the Ports Manager.

 The management will look at the documents and from the documents, we will be able to know if they have flouted the order or not”.

“Normally, NPA has to refund terminal operators by way of credit note and from that documents we will be able to know if payments were made. If truly they were charged during the suspension that’s the flagrant to the law of the land and we will take the terminal operators up”.

Similarly, Executive Secretary and CEO, Nigeria Shippers’ Council, Mr Hassan Bello said it is illegal to collect demurrage during the lockdown and anyone with facts should come to the Shippers’ council.

“I don’t think it’s true that demurrage was charged. Shipping companies are not expected to collect demurrage during the lockdown. If there is anybody levelled or charged with demurrage during the period should come with evidence to the Shippers’ council and will be refunded”.

Ridwan Fasasi

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