…As Olabanji advocates setting up of visitation panel to APMT
For consistently delaying booking and dropping of containers for examination and other issues connected thereto, the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders Nigeria, AREFFN has called on the federal government through the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC to declare a state of emergency in AP Moller terminal in Apapa, Lagos, Nigeria.
The National Secretary of the association, Ichie Frank Obiekezie who made this plea in a chat with Primetime Reporters in Lagos on Tuesday frowned at different antics being deployed by the management of the terminal to delay the agents, in most cases for weeks, from booking their containers for examination with the intent to collect demurrage from them when free period must have expired.
He further alleged of extortions and underhand deals by staff of the terminal who most times, charge agents between twenty thousand naira and thirty thousand to perform their job saying that if one refused to pay the kickback, his or her consignment may suffer further delays in the terminal thereby accruing more demurrage.
The AREFFN National Scribe observed that APM Terminal and its shipping subsidiary, Maersk line handled the largest volume of container traffic in the country noting that if there were five people complaining against the activities of terminal operators, four of them would be complaining about APMT.
“Why can’t you (FG) declare a state of emergency in AP Moller? You can’t go there and book examination now and do it. The one I booked, if I do it in two weeks, then I am lucky and you must give money to get that done. This booking now we have succeeded in doing as at Monday, we started on Friday. I think it was on Monday that they said that we have been booked. I asked them (my staff) when, they said Tuesday. How much did you people pay? They said thirty thousand naira and so, when are we doing it, they said today and today again, they called to say that it’s no longer possible, that it will be on the 1st of December which is Friday (today).
“Meanwhile, the Maersk line release we have done will expire on the 1st of December. So, from 2nd, we start paying demurrage and before you know it, that 9th December (commencement date for new Maersk line shipping charge) will meet you, they may not even remember that this ship has been here before this effective date. If we go for additional debit note, they may start counting from there.
“I told the Shippers’ Council that at the time of concession, these terminal owners must have been required to present their operational equipment and other things in order to make them qualify. I asked them, in the intervening years, how many times have you audited them to see whether they are still in the position to continue with the concession? You don’t just come here, approving increases for them. They will tell you we don’t charge for services we did not render, who said so?
“Now that I have booked for this examination and it will last for one or two weeks, by the time you go for debt note, they will not remember, they will be charging you, Nobody takes into consideration I have applied for examination. Shippers’ Council will tell you to be giving them information and I asked, how many people will be giving you this information? They promised us that they will establish Complaints Unit in the terminals, I don’t know whether that had been done, even if that has been done, even if one gives them complain and they find out that they don’t have equipment to handle these jobs, what would they do?
“Go back to them, tell them there will be no increases until we are satisfied that you are now in the position to do your job. It is not a question of six hundred thousand naira and you said you brought it down to four hundred thousand Naira. Tomorrow, Maersk line will increase to One thousand naira, maybe, we beg them and they will bring it down to eight hundred thousand naira or so. We are not serious.
“I wish a president that has the will power, knowledge and special interest will come on saddle. Look at the Minister that has been appointed, I don’t know what he has been doing. He’s talking about floating the National Shipping Line, is that his priority?”, he queried.
Speaking on the notice of increment in charges given by Maersk line with effect from 9th December, 2023, he said, “We knew that the shipping companies will come up with their increment. Now, when we want to clear a 20 footer container, the money we could have used in clearing three containers before, you can hardly use it to clear one now because of all these increases.
“At our own level, most of our members are losing hope in the associations and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, CRFFN because these things are happening on a continuous basis and they don’t see serious interventions. I have called the attention of the Shippers’ Council on this proposed increment by Maersk line.”
Collaborating the views expressed by Obiekezie, the Chairman, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Lillypond Export Chapter, Mr. Olufemi Abiodun Olabanji suggested that a committee comprising of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA and freight forwarding practitioners be set up to inspect and evaluate the terminal operators’ equipment to justify the recent increase in storage charges.
According to him, “The importers are the ones suffering these things. We are clearing agents, when you book for examination, you book through the customs, from customs, they will push you to APMT. After sending it to APMT, if you don’t go to meet them and pay them money, that is outside the booking system between N10,000 and N20,000 per container. If you don’t pay these money, there is no way you will go to get your container booked for examination and when you get the container booked for examination, you have to pay the APMT staff before they can carry your container to examination bay. You pay in cash.
“After paying this money and your booking is made, you will continue to pay demurrage if the container is not dropped for examination. And after dropping your container for examination, after releasing, if your container is not taken out of the port, you will continue to pay demurrage. So, all these accumulative demurrage, if the importers pay the duty, as a matured customs agent, you must pay the terminal, pay the shipping,do the running and deliver at the doorstep of the importer before you send the bill for claims.
“Initially, when you look at it, the container will be at the port for two to three weeks, but now, the cost of demurrage at the port is too high that the agents cannot afford to pay that kind of money again and with all these things, the importers have to take the cost to the end users who will now suffer it.
“I am pleading on behalf of the customs agents that the government should look into this because the importers are struggling to see if they can get money. Some goods are in the port now that they cannot see money to clear them because of too much demurrage. Nobody would want his or her goods to enter demurrage but with the system of clearing in Nigeria because if you book for examination, it takes two weeks before the container will be dropped for examination.
“Those people will cause that problem for you to come and settle before your container will be dropped and if you don’t settle for your container to be dropped, it will take you two weeks before your container will be dropped for examination. After dropping for examination, it takes you another one or two weeks before you can load after releasing.
“It is not as if the officials of the Nigeria Customs Service who examined the container and release, they don’t want to waste time now. Once they examine your container, they give you report and you go for release but before you drop container for examination, it takes you two weeks. We agents are having hypertension because customs officials and the terminal staff are not losing anything. We pray to get job, we pray to get the job done otherwise you will just look stupid. So, I am begging the government to look into it.”
Photo 1: Ichie Frank Obiekezie, National Secretary, AREFFN.
Photo 2: Mr. Olufemi Abiodun Olabanji, Chairman, Lillypond Export Chapter, ANLCA.
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