After touring the ports recently in company with board members of Nigerian Ports Authourity
(NPA), its managing director, Mallam Abdusallam Mohammed conveyed what has been termed in some quarters as NPA decree on port decongestion.
After leading the board headed by Chief Tony Anenih round some of the terminals in Lagos ports to show them the enormity of the crisis and after having an unscheduled meeting with the Customs Comptroller General, the lot fell on Abdusallam to convey the decision of the board to stakeholders on what can be done to stem the crippling manifestations of port congestion on port operations.
To stem the tide, NPA board approved that there will be no issuance of new Ship Entry Notice (SEN) to agents of shipping lines until middle of April and directed that all ships that are laden with containers and which have already been scheduled to berth in Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin Can should proceed to ports outside Lagos. By that, we think he was referring to Onne, Port Harcourt, Calabar or Warri. But he was probably referring more to Onne port than others.
What has now snowballed into embarrassing congestion first reared its head mid-last 2008 and since then, the number of ships that are awaiting berthing spaces in Lagos ports has kept soaring by the day, so much that at a point, there were more than 100 of such ships.
Suffice it to also say that even though; government’s efforts at addressing the issue are still on-going, what NPA has done is akin to guiding its own territory against ‘onslaught’.
Apart from, decreeing that no ship can come to Lagos ports until further notice, it also fixed a flat demurrage rate of N100, 000 per 20-foot container and N200, 000 for a 40-foot container; all in a bid to clear the ports of unclaimed containers.
The third decision which NPA plans to force down the throat of another stakeholder (that is Customs) is that henceforth, all containers must be physically examined by the Customs.
In doing the above, NPA has inadvertently taken upon itself the duty of superintending shipping agents, shipping companies and Customs respectively.
As much as we empathise with NPA in its determination to see that the number of ships waiting at the outside bar is reduced, we feel strongly that it is legally wrong of NPA to decree the routes as well as ports of destination of a ship. Those who understand contract of carriage know that it is risky and absolutely difficult to ask a ship master proceed to any other port after arriving at the port of destination as pre arranged on the voyage schedule. Apart from the possibility of running foul her P&I coverage, the ship will also incur more expenses.
It is equally wrong of NPA to unilaterally fix demurrage rates. Thirdly, how right is it for NPA to instruct a sister government agency on how to run its affairs; especially which containers it should examine and how this should be done.
We think that NPA should have waited for the outcome of the on-going ministerial intervention through the instrumentality of the committee that was established to review the various charges (including demurrage and other costs) before coming up with those ‘laws’.
Notwithstanding, we quite understand the desperation of NPA to see that Lagos ports are freed of thousands of containers that have been lying there unclaimed since last year.
Good enough, just a few hours before this page went to bed, it was reported that NPA had reversed the SEN order. Even though, it took ministerial intervention and lobbying for this to happen, we wish that NPA had consulted more on widely and seriously before decreeing it.
We also hope that other issues, such as: compulsory 100 per cent examination and demurrage will not spring up as contentious issues in a few days.
Sesan Onileimo (FNIS)