Covid-19: Sea Empowerment reaffirms freight forwarders as essential service providers


… Decries non provision of Personal Protective Equipment by government agencies

Worried by the argument in some quarters on whether or not freight forwarders can be classified as essential workers going by government’s directive on restriction of movement in Lagos, Ogun and FCT as a means to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sea Empowerment and Research Centre has reaffirmed that freight forwarders actually are essential workers and should be given unhindered access in the exercise of his duties to the nation and her citizens.

The Director General of the Centre, Mr. Francis Uchechukwu Aniezechukwu who made this assertion in a statement he issued in Lagos yesterday and made available to Primetime Reporters, noted that President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive in his address to the nation on Sunday 29th March, 2019 that “all seaports in Lagos shall remain operational” illustrated the commercial importance of the freight forwarders as an indispensable members of the international trade globally.

Aniezechukwu recounted that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in its Coronavirus preliminary list of recommendation for government and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of maritime trade during the Covid-19 pandemic in Circular letter No.4204/Add.6 Page 2 said, “In these difficult times, the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and foodstuffs, will be central to responding to, and eventually overcoming this pandemic.

“It is therefore, crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted. At the same time, the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment must also remain paramount. One of the goals of IMO as stated in its convention is to ensure availability of of shipping services to the commerce of the world for the benefit of humanity. I urge all IMO member states to bear this in mind when framing their policy decisions with regard to the coronavirus. Defeating the virus must be the first priority but global trade in a safe, secure and environmentally friendly manner must be able to continue too.”

He also quoted President Muhammadu Buhari in his address on Covid-19 pandemic on Sunday 29th March, 2020 as saying in paragraph 42, “All seaports in Lagos shall remain operational in accordance with the guidelines I issued earlier. Vehicles and drivers conveying essential cargoes from these ports to other parts of the country will e screened thoroughly before departure by the Port Health Authority.”

The Director General further quoted the FIATA shorthand description of freight forwarders as the “architect of transport” while recalling the IMO’s insistence that “shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods including medical supplies and foodstuffs will be central to responding to and eventually overcoming this pandemic.”

He continued, “And President Muhammadu Buhari order that ‘all seaports in Lagos shall remain operational’ illustrates the commercial importance of the freight forwarders as indispensable members of the international trade globally.

“IMO circular letter No.4204/Add.6 Annex page 3: Measures to ensure health protection in ports – governments and relevant national authorities are recommended in paragraph 6: ‘Ensure those working in ports and having access o ships are provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (which includes masks, hand sanitizers and other means of preventing the spread of the virus) prior to contact with seafarers.”

Aniezechukwu therefore reiterated the importance of the provision of appropriate personal protective equipment to freight forwarders as providers of essential services in the port while drawing attention of the maritime regulatory agencies, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigerian Ports Authority, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and the Council for the Regulating of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria to safety and operational loopholes in the Nigerian maritime sector.

On the Centre’s finding from the 31st March, 2020 to 3rd April, 2020 on the provision of health preventive measures by government agencies at the ports, he said that findings showed absence of sanitizers, Masks and other preventive measures at Apapa ports complex, Tincan Island port complex, Ports and Terminal Multiservices  Limited and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal.

He however noted that while the government agencies and terminal operators provided sanitizers and face masks in their offices, they failed to provide same to the stakeholders operating at the ports.

The DG further said that findings had revealed that only the operatives of the Nigerian Customs Service,  National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, State Security Services and Nigeria Police Force (Anti Bomb Squad were on duty at the ports.

He added that whereas banks were fairly opened in Apapa and Tincan Island ports, the same could not be said of PTML and KLT even as he noted that buses were provided by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to convey freight forwarders from various bus stops in Lagos to Apapa to clear goods.

On social distancing, he maintained that while 60 percent is achieved in customs offices, 70 percent inside terminal offices, outside customs offices across the window, inside Inspection terminals and outside terminal officers across the window recorded zero percent observances at Apapa Port Complex. At Tincan, inside customs offices 80 percent, inside terminal offices 70 percent while outside customs offices across the window, inside inspection terminal and outside terminal offices across the windows all recorded zero percentage.

At PTML, it is 92 percent inside customs offices, 73 percent inside terminal offices while outside customs offices across the windows, inside inspection terminals and outside terminal offices across the windows maintained zero percentages. KLT recorded 50 percent inside customs offices, 60 percent inside terminal offices while outside customs offices across the windows, inside inspection terminals and outside terminal offices across the windows, it was zero percent.

Photo: Director General, Sea Empowerment and Research Centre, Mr. Francis Uchechukwu Aniezechukwu.

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