The Sea Empowerment and Research Centre Ltd/Gte has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over extortions by Grimaldi Agency Nigeria Limited and other shipping companies under the aegis of the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), in the name of container deposits and container demurrages from the importing public through their agents at the nation’s seaports.
In a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the Director-General of the Sea Empowerment and Research Centre, Mr. Francis Aniezechukwu listed the shipping companies involved in the collection of the container deposits and demurrages to include; Comet Shipping C Nigeria Limited, CMA CGM Nigeria Limited, Alraine Shipping Agency Nigeria Limited and PIL Nigeria Limited.
Others are; Mitsui O.S.K Limited, Maersk Nigeria Limited, GAC Shipping Nigeria Limited, Grimaldi Agency Nigeria Limited, Africa Port Services Limited, Mediterranean Shipping Company, Hull Blyth Nigeria Limited and GMT Shipping and Logistics Group Ltd.
Aniezechukwu explained that the importers through their agents were made to pay a deposit in the average of N100,000 to N200,000 for each container, depending on the size of the container and an additional provisional demurrage between N100,000 and N150,000 purportedly to secure the return of the containers in the process of clearing cargoes at the sea ports.
He further explained that even though the shipping companies disguise that the container deposits were refundable fees, they were not fully refunded upon return of the empty containers rather, the shipping companies unilaterally and arbitrarily apply demurrage fees for the alleged delay in returning the empty containers and may at times contend that the importer and his agent were indebted to them for balance of the accrued empty container demurrages.
The DG observed that the alleged delay in returning the empty containers often relied upon by the shipping companies were usually caused by the gridlock in the seaports, partly attributed to the activities of the shipping companies and terminal operators that had no space for transporters to return the empty containers, road network and other environmental challenges existing without any fault of the importers and freight forwarders which according to him was beyond the control of the importers and freight forwarders.
According to him,” Based on the data available on the website of the Nigerian Ports
Authority (“NPA”) http://nigerianports.gov.ng/ports-statistics/#956f834f4cfa219e1, average of 70, 000 containers are cleared on yearly basis from 2007 to 2018. This imply that the shipping companies have made not less than N7, 000,000,000 (Seven Billion Naira) from container deposits every year and over N84, 000,000,000 (Eighty-Four Billion Naira) during the relevant period. A copy of the document containing the analysis of the data is enclosed as Annexure F.
“Sea Empowerment is of the view that the container deposits scheme is not necessary to secure the return of empty containers because the freight forwarders dealing with the shipping companies are agents duly registered and licensed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Nigeria Custom Service, under and by virtue of the Extant Custom and Excise Agent licensing Regulation 1968. As such, the freight forwarders are not faceless and cannot make away with the containers. Assuming but not conceding that there is any risk of loss of or damage to the containers, the shipping companies have insurable interests in the containers and are meant to insure their proprietary interests, in line with best business practices.
“As regards the container demurrages, Sea Empowerment strongly contends that the importers or freight forwarders ought not to be punished charged or liable for the delay in the sea ports for which they are not responsible. Indeed, the said delay also affects their businesses negatively and often result in financial losses for them in particular and Nigeria in general. If anything, the freight forwarders desire more efficient clearing system than the shipping companies and it is unfair that the shipping companies are adding insult to injury for the importers, freight forwarders and against the federal government ease of doing business order.
“Premised on the foregoing, Sea Empowerment contends that the container deposits and container demurrages on delayed empty containers are fraudulent schemes designed by the shipping companies to extort money from the importers and the schemes are illegal, unfair and oppressive and not known to any law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
He disclosed that following their complaint, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) had made publications condemning the container deposits and container demurrage schemes and sought to abolish it, yet, the shipping companies continued to charge the said fees unabated and undisturbed.
“It is our view that unless this matter is thoroughly investigated and persons found culpable are prosecuted for the dastardly scheme, the ground scheme of extortion and fraud will continue, leaving the importers and freight forwarders helpless and oppressed. And most importantly, the effort of the President of the federal Republic of Nigeria in securing foreign investors for Nigeria will be totally destroyed as a result of the various high cost of doing business caused by the excessive shipping charges in Nigeria.
“We humbly request that this matter be investigated thoroughly and persons found culpable of the ground scheme of fraud and extortion should be prosecuted according to the laws of Nigeria”, he added.
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