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Regulator, stakeholders in search of new port order

By on November 3, 2014

As the ports industry advances in the long search for efficiency, the Ports Economic Regulator  and  stakeholders in the sector have outlined  measures which if adopted will pave the way for a new port order in the country. In the move for the new port order which will take Nigeria’s reform at the ports to a higher level, the Ports Regulator during the week  introduced   what it described as  ‘comprehensive process manuals’  for providers and consumers of shipping services.
As the ports regulator, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) maintains that with cooperation from stakeholders in the ports industry, the new measures  will apart from reducing cost also  remove delay  in the process of goods delivery.  The measures from the Council are coming at a time when other stakeholders, mainly  shippers,   are  calling  for   strong   measures to improve   trade facilitation in the country.  At a one-day seminar  for a new port order organised by the   NSC  in collaboration with  the  Lagos Shippers’ Association (LSA),  experts  identified  critical issues that need to be addressed to pave the way for  the new   order.
The position of the stakeholders coincides with the process manuals or guidelines by the ports regulator which has already  appointed  world maritime consultants    to provide necessary advisory roles that will assist  in its  statutory roles as an Economic Regulator. The appointment of the   consultants identified as CPCS, a Canadian   company with independent experience  in marine transport;  Nafith (Trident N Tel Group),  Jordanian –American Logistics company and Mark Analytics under the aegis of Lagos Business School, is part of the moves for a new port order by the Council. The consultants, according to the Executive Secretary of the NSC, Mr Hassan Bello, will play  an in-house technical advisory role and  guide the Council on tariffs and  generally  in its role as commercial regulator in the ports.

Beginning with Trade Tariffs
In what appears like flagging off the new port order, the Ports Regulator during the week announced the reversal of the current charges on storage by terminal operators to the 2009 rate.  The measure which was released Wednesday by the Ports Regulator was interpreted by stakeholders, particularly shippers and their freight forwarders who commended the action as aimed at checking the excesses of the terminal operators. Bello  told  this writer   that the storage charges were introduced by the terminal operators about five years ago in violation of the approved rate by the Transport Ministry in the same year.
With the policy measure, the concessionaires  were directed  to revert to the old  rates  of between  N750, N5,000 (for 20ft containers),    and N1,500,  N10,000 for 40ft containers. This depends on  how long the container spends in any of the  terminals. The  Council raised  the   free period for shippers who have  containers at the ports to   seven days   in line with  international  average as  against three days  by the  concessionaires.
Based on the  Notice to the  terminal operators, the   charges are rated  beginning from the second period which includes N750 and N1000 for 20ft containers , while the  rate for  40ft container is  N1,500 and N2,500.00. Under  the third  and fourth period, the rate  is   higher as  it ranges from  N1,500 to N5,000 for 20 ft container  as  against N8,000 and N10,000 for  40ft containers. To further ensure that undue delay in the process is reduced,    the Council  is insisting that the terminal operators must position their containers for examination  not  later than 36 hours after the  appointment has been made for it. This, the  Council explained,  will  ensure “proper,  efficient and equitable application of the approved  Progressive  Storage Charges”.
“Where a terminal operator does not position a container for examination by the scheduled date, storage charges must not be charged  for any day (s) thereafter and up to  the date when the  container  is positioned for examination.   Any accrued container demurrage caused by such delay shall be borne by the terminal operator”, the Council said in a statement.
The statement added,  “Once a consignee or a clearing agent submits necessary documents and makes a request for an invoice from the terminal operator, such invoice must be issued on the same day.
“When a consignee or his clearing agent/transporter presents a terminal Delivery Order (TDO) to the terminal operator, the terminal operator shall locate the container without undue delay.  If any delay  occurs, storage shall not be charged for the period of such delay.”
On container deposit, the Council ordered a refund of the money within 10 working days the empty (container) was returned or the  shipping company will  pay  interest on the outstanding amount of deposit at the Central Bank of Nigeria’s prevailing commercial interest rate until the refund is effected.  As earlier reported, the Notice includes  reduction   by 50 per cent  on shipping line agency charge and container cleaning and maintenance charge.
Bello explains that part of the new port order is for all the   providers and consumers of shipping services to be law abiding, particularly under the new order. He said that what this means is that there cannot be  increase in tariff without the NSC as the regulator. The decision of the NSC,  he said, will cut cost of doing business  in our  ports for the benefit of the national economy.  He added that if the process manual is approved by all stakeholders, delays will be eliminated and  cost reduced.
“Besides, this measure will make our ports compete  with neighbouring ports. It will increase cargo throughput  and this is necessary considering the volatile market  in the crude oil sector. It means that the maritime industry will fill the gap. This is why the stakeholders have to support this.”
Bello argues that a new order has to be in place to create the room for efficiency in every aspect of ports operation.  He  traced the  reason for diversion of cargoes meant for Nigeria  to neighbouring ports in the past    to the unfriendly   activities at the country’s seaports. According to him, so many  factors were responsible for the diversion of  goods   through  other  neighbouring ports in West and Central Africa.  The  goods are later  smuggled into Nigeria, a development, Bello said was not good for the country.

Bello, a lawyer,   added that the  decision of the Federal Government to appoint the Council as a Ports Regulator was  part of the efforts of government to put  things right in the ports.  He said that it was part of this that the  Council is determined  to ensure that  the ports achieve efficiency  as is the case in other global ports.  He said his Council as the Economic Regulator will ensure  fair pricing, settlement of disputes arising from the system and automation in the ports. Bello commended the  NPA management for the  automation, including the electronic entry notice for ships, adding that it will cut down time and cost. He also said  that it will  facilitate  48 hour cargo clearance target which  he said  remains the goal of the ports regulator.

Stakeholders on New Port Order
At a one day seminar, stakeholders called for a functional rail links to the ports as part of the new order. They opined that  a rail link will check the endless congestion at the ports as well as improve on the  Apapa gridlock that has become a nightmare for businesses and residents. President of  Shippers’ Association of Lagos,  Rev  Jonathan Nicol,  also called for  the amendment of the  Customs and Excise Management Act  (CEMA)  to have a human face and embrace modern techniques in cargo management.

Nicol was equally  of the view that  the new order is for the  Customs Service  to  withdraw  their officers on the highways as well as  for government to compel the Service to reduce tariffs. He called for a tariff regime of a life span of 20 years without any major amendment, particularly on raw materials and domestic items. He also charged  the Customs   to  address the issue of smuggling of contraband goods into the country.
He called for  “automation  of the port;  building of truck terminals within 100 meters away from the port where trucks would gain access only  when they are called  upon with a computerized card;  separate access roads for only port users,  construction of  roads that can accommodate  heavy duty  trucks”.

Another stakeholder, Capt. M. Bashir of Apapa Bulk Terminal  who spoke at the one  day event   expressed the disappointment of many shipowners calling at the Nigerian ports over  lack of necessary facilities in the ports.  Bashir said lack of tug boats has forced many vessels to spend more hours in the ports  during which they incur demurrage running into  thousands of dollars. As part of the new port order, he said this trend should be put to an end.


[This Day]