The Executive Secretary/ CEO of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC), Hassan Bello in this interview with SHOLA FADEYI, published in the latest edition of the Marine and economy Magazine relieved the many positive ways in which the Coronavirus Pandemic has positively affected the Nigerian Seaports.He also spoke on the efforts of the Council to keep the ports functioning during the lockdown occasioned by the disease, while he dwelt on other issues through which the body has impacted on the performance of the Seaport sub sector and the economy.Excerpts:-
The activities of the Shippers ‘ Council as an economic regulator of the seaports in Nigeria since the outbreak of the COVID- 19 were meant to keep the Ports open and functioning particularly during the lockdown ,while sensitizing the stakeholders on the need for them obey the protocols that have been put in place to curtail the spread of the disease. This led to the setting up of the Maritime Task Team , which membership cuts across most of the agencies of government and other stakeholders.
Maritime Task Team
They include the Nigerian Navy , Nigerian Customs, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA) , Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) , Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) , while the group is chaired by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria(CRFFN).The Council was also able to use the Task Team to bring a lot of solutions to the challenges at the Port associated with the disease.
Enlightenment on COVID-19 Protocols
The Ports, especially the type in Nigeria are like a red district, full of dangers, while they are patronized by a lot of people. So what the Council and the Team did was to enlighten the users of the Ports and the operators there, to maintain social distancing, wear mask and observe basic hygiene of washing their hands frequently with soap, under running water , use sanitizers and sneeze into their elbows and to observe other protocols as stipulated by the relevant health authorities .
First, we said , why should you be at the Ports, if you don’t have anything doing there ?.You need to have a business at the Ports , before you can be there.Though the first two weeks of the Team’s activities , during the lockdown, were somehow traumatic for us , because people were not just observing the protocols, but the Council had to post personnel to the terminals who ensured that the protocols were adhered to.
Simplification of Processes
Also, during the period of the lockdown, The Council through the Team succeeded in simplifying the processes of the shipping companies operations , which is very important , so that one needs not to be physically present at the ports to transact business. We also met with the banks to ensure that they offer their services to port users , a development which reduced the convergence of people at the ports.
Containment of the Pandemic
So the positive result recorded in the reduction of the level of patronage at the ports made it possible for the dangers of the spread of the disease to be minimized .In all these , the Council had a collaboration with the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Port Health , while it went to all the terminals with their personnel.
We let them know the dangers of the disease and the need for it to be contained, and one can confidently say that it was a worthwhile efforts and a successful outcome and that is the first stage while the second stage will follow later.
Suspension of Collection of Demurrage / 30 % Reduction in Truckers Charges
The Council through the Team also intervened in suspending collection of demurrage on containers at the ports for certain period of the pandemic and it is a good thing that many of the importers have been refunded the money collected from them as demurrage by the shipping companies while we also convinced the truckers to reduce the cost of their services by 30 per cent .
So , we use this medium to express our thanks to the shipping companies , truckers and other stakeholders during the period for their support , co-operation and sacrifices to cushion the effect of the disease on the shippers .
Negative Impact of COVID-19
The Port system was indeed a victim of the Coronavirus just like other parts of the maritime sector. There were disruptions in the world logistic chain , which also came with a lot of contractual disruptions. People were not able to perform their contracts and sometimes, the contract of affreinghtment , the discharging and transfer of cargoes .
In Nigeria for example, there were interstate ban on movements, markets were closed and this led to congestion at the ports at that time.Most shippers were also not going to the ports at the time to take delivery of their cargoes , because they lack the pecuniary means to do so, while the Alaba Electronics and textile markets among others ,where they normally sell their wares were also closed.So , this was a big challenge.
But it was a good thing that the Shippers’ Council was able to maneuver to ensure that the ports were opened during the period because if they were not , the country will be in serious trouble as the economy will come to comatose , there would not be medicine or food or even essential cargo while many more people would have been thrown out of jobs .So, the Shippers’ Council was able to strike a balance between letting the Ports to continue to operate, and also observing protocols.
Positive Implication of Outbreak of COVID-19
Thus ,we were able to ensure at that time that the three modes of transportation were servicing the ports , meaning that multi modal approach to cargo delivery and evacuation was actually possible, and giving the hope of ports that can work for 24 hours round the clock and you get your cargo in 48 hours.These are the basic things that we have learnt and which we are pushing together with all the agencies of the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
Train Operations During Lockdown
That was indeed a beautiful collaboration and which was why we could make the train to work due to our collaboration with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) during that time.At least one or two trips were done at that time to evacuate cargo , deliver export cargo and empties to the Ports.
Digitalization of Ports
The pandemic also afforded the Ports , the opportunity to further develop, modernize and digitalize on its operations as it made the Council to step up the issue of digitalization in the system , having being angered by the way people just come to the ports and due to the need to maintain physical distancing , it ensured that most transactions are carried out online .
Also, during the lockdown, the Council made sure that the Ports apart from functioning daily, operated at weekends because of the serious collaborations it had with the NPA and the freight forwarders , as the Council and the agents were the ones going round to terminals everyday to ensure that all the necessary measures for smooth operations at the Ports were carried out.
Regulation to Check Unlatched Containers
Beyond all this, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is also planning to start preventing trucks carrying containers that are unlatched to the body of the articulated vehicles ,from leaving any of the seaports in the country until they latch them. This is part of measures we are considering to put an end to accidents and deaths being caused on the highways in Lagos and other parts of the country, by trucks which carry containers that are unlatched to their bodies. Checking Delay to Cargo Delivery
Apart from the fact that lives are lost when containers fall on vehicles, the act of not latching containers is primitive as well as constituted gross neglect on the part of truckers. As much as the Council is worried by the damage caused to lives and properties by such ugly incidents, it also makes importers to incur loss as well frustrate delivery of goods to the final destination.
If containers fall and kill people , there would be delay in the delivery of cargoes, apart from the fatalities which are always very unfortunate , while such accidents will also constitute chaos , blockage on the free flow of cargo , as well as come with some cost.
Regulating age of Trucks/ Re-fleeting Process
As an Economic Regulator of the Ports , which the Council is , we are planning to look at the age of the fleet , whether they would be able to carry cargo up to destination, as well put an arrangement in place for the re-fleeting of the fleet of the truckers, because some of them cannot perform the duty.
There are lots of regulations that are not streamlined as far as trucking is concerned and we hope to ensure that things are done right.What is required to stem the tide is the reforms of the trucking sector, which will entail a combination of companies ,with share capital, having fleet with a minimum of six vehicles for effectiveness, not informal , instead of owner drivers .That is why I have been saying that care should be taking so that this maritime sector is not dragged into the informal sector.
Refund on Transferred Containers
We are actually enforcing the directive we gave the terminals and the shipping companies agents on the issue of refund of the money that they have collected from the consignees for containers that have been transferred to other ports without the knowledge of the shippers.In fact, some of the shipping companies have written us , to let us know that they are complying.
The issue is that if a shipping company must divert cargo to any other Port rather than the Port of Destination,as stated in the Bill of Lading ,the consignee must be notified , rather than him just having the knowledge , otherwise , how will he identify where his cargo has been taken to.
Diversion of cargo to the another port rather than the one mentioned in the Bill of Lading is allowed in law , but there must be reasons, either because of war situation or that the Port is unsafe due to strike action or some other major issues. The cargo can be transferred so that the consignee does not lose it.
But in Nigeria, there are no indications at all that the Ports are unsafe , but you still have a situation where cargoes are diverted to other ports apart from the ones stated in the manifest even without the consent of the consignees and they are made to bear the charges .It is extremely unfair.
The Shippers’ Council has stopped the anomaly and it is also monitoring the development with a view to applying the full weight of its regulatory powers on erring shipping companies.
The Kano State Government recently budgeted about N2billion for structures around the Dala Dry Port .The ICD has a new partner and the ICRC is looking at the whole issue .In Ibadan, the Council has concluded the first round of negotiation with the preferred bidder.It is an $100 million , 80, 000 metric tonnes capacity dry Port while the Chinese are committed to the project , which is to be executed on the Private Public Partnership(PPP) basis.
It should also be noted that the Shippers’ Council is the Promoter of the ICD, while the project has been concessioned to the private sector .Where you see the concessionaires not performing, it is just a function of their financial capacity and other issues.So for some of the not performs , we have threatened to revoke the concession , but we are just giving them their last chance.So, with the way discussions have progressed with the Chinese on the project, we expect that before the first quarter of next year , the turning of the sword on the project should take place in Ibadan.
As for Catamaran the preferred concessionaire for the first ICD in Ibadan, it is still battling with the project .However because the ICDs are legacy ports , it is a good idea that both ports can exist in Ibadan for purpose of competition so that shippers can have choices.
It was suspended due to certain factors, but it would be resumed any moment
Surprisingly, the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill is also being reactivated. The Senate has passed it and it is with the House of Representatives .It is just a multi- sectoral regulation , which time has come and I think with time , it will get the Assent of Mr President .
Uniform Rates for Truckers
It is an indicative rate.It is important that it is published and we will soon do that so that foreign investors would know what the trucking rates are from one location to the other, say from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt and from Lagos to others parts of the country.
Insurance of Container Deposits Bills
Insurance of Container Deposits
On the issue of insuring the deposits paid by shippers on containers, the Council has done a lot in this direction .We have met with the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) , the umbrella body of insurance companies in the country ,which has welcomed the idea of insuring container deposits.
So, the issue is not only about insurance deposit , but the low penetration of insurance in the maritime sector , which is very worrying.Operations in the maritime sector goes with a lot of risks. Why will one not insure his cargoes against demurrage and rents at the ports.So insurance can be extended to these issues.
The issue is that deposits on containers is unacceptable , because billions of naira are trapped in container deposits and this can be simplified through insurance when insurance companies partake in it via apportionment of risks.That is what they are suppose to do.