Covid-19:  Port Congestion looms as freight forwarders abandon cargo at ports — Bello appeals for seamless cargo clearance

Covid-19:  Port Congestion looms as freight forwarders abandon cargo at ports  — Bello appeals for seamless cargo clearance

 

Abiola Seun

Despite the Federal Government directive that ports should remain open to facilitate seamless evacuation of cargo in the midst of the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, freight forwarders have refused to clear their goods from the ports.

This incident has therefore led to cargo glut as most of the terminals are almost full to their capacity with vessels laden with cargoes still at anchorage, waiting to discharge.

The freight forwarders have attributed their inability to clear their cargo, despite being exempted from the movement restriction order, to the challenges with Customs clearance procedures and the failure of banks to open to enable them  process duty payment.

The Vice Chairman of ENL Consortium, one of the terminal operators, Princess Vicky Haastrup lamented that the terminal is already full to the brim with 85 per cent yard space already occupied.

She attributed this to the fact that freight forwarders and importers were not coming forward to take delivery of their consignments.

She noted that at the moment, five vessels are waiting at berth, ready to discharge their contents.

“The freight forwarders are not coming  because some of them have Customs problems. I have five ships at the berth and the terminal is full. We are ready to operate but the people are not coming,” she said

She was speaking yesterday during the visit of Barrister Hassan Bello, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council to the Apapa and Tin can ports.

Bello yesterday said the seaports must be operational for the exit of cargoes especially raw materials and relief materials.

Bello  appealed that  cargo should not be subjected to interstate restrictions in order to keep the economy of the nation’s moving amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also urged clearing agents and importers  to use the opportunity of the lockdown to take delivery of cargoes from the ports and decongest the sea and land side.

Bello who visited the ENL and Port and Terminal Multiservices Limited (PTML), said the Council has provided buses for port workers to access the ports .

He reiterated that despite the lockdown, cargoes should be allowed to reach their destinations across the country.

He added, “I’m always scared about the congestion on both sides that will happen if cargo is not taken out of the port. We have terminals with 95 per cent occupancy rate. We are doing the same thing at Port Harcourt where people are not allowed to convey their goods from the port.

“We are talking to the Authority to make sure cargoes are allowed to move freely. There should be movement of cargo. Cargo should not be subjected to interstate restrictions. Cargo should reach its destination that is why even at  the airport, we have cargo planes dropping.

Exemption has been made as far as that is concerned. We also have trains running for freight and not for passengers.”

He further stated that port is the nation’s heritage even though Nigeria as a country is presently  constrained.

He said Shippers’ Council is trying  as much as possible to see that ports operate because it is the nerve of the nation’s economy and for the citizens to fight the coronavirus.

He added, “We need certain essential commodities and medicine, equipment and so on to move. We have sent circulars trying to see that port operations is kept or the port is moving despite the difficulties. The government has to find a balance between the safety of the people and the economy. Port also generates revenue, which is needed now.”

In order to ensure that there is smooth operations in the port, he said Shippers’ Council has provided transportation  to some agents and freight forwarders so that they could  come to port and transact business and those who have business to transact at the port.

His words, “I know that we are operating under some difficult situations, this is global and I know there are certain disruptions  in international shipping, logistics and so on especially certain contracts that are frustrated by the nature of this pandemic. And we cannot perform some of our obligations and that goes to both parties.

“We have also been talking with the commercial banks. Some of them have also opened immediately two branches in Apapa (Zenith Bank) to transact the business of assessment of duty and payment of duty, which they will start tomorrow, we are talking with other banks and they will do the same.”

Meanwhile, the Managing Director of Ports and Terminal Multiservices Limited, Ascanio Russo said the company has been operational and intend to continue to be operational in line with the directives issued by Mr President.

He said that, “I’m very glad that the federal government has provided certain critical infrastructure, which would make the ports to be open all the time especially in a difficult times like this. There is no where in the world even the most affected countries where ports and critical logistics service were ever closed.

“So, am also very happy to hear and appreciate the Council for the role taken to facilitate access to the ports and also for the banks to come on  so that we can facilitate the payment of duties and these are very critical steps because on our own side, we are ready to work.”

According to him, there is need to acknowledge that  the whole world is working around the Logistics services not only shipping agents, manufacturers or dockworkers but all the service providers including security, cleaners, drivers and they should be allowed to come to the port area.

Editing by ‘Biodun Soyele

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