COST OF DOING BUSINESS AT THE PORT: Haastrup wants FG to beam searchlight on shipping agents, others

Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess (Dr.) Vicky Haastrup, has called on the Federal Government to beam its searchlight on the activities of shipping agents, freight forwarders and operatives of government agencies at the ports, if it is desirous of bringing down the cost of doing business at the port.
Haastrup, who is also the Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of ENL Consortium – operators of Terminals A and B and the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa – said that despite the reduction in terminal handling charges by terminal operators in 2006; cost of doing business at the port may have remained high because the activities of shipping agents, freight forwarders and operatives of government agencies have not been regulated or brought under scrutiny.
“At the ports, there are so many factors that can militate against bringing down costs of operations. We have so many people who operate within the port system. We have the concessionaires, the ship agents, clearing agents and numerous government agencies.
“The concessionaires are not responsible for the increase in the cost of operations at the ports. There are shipping agents; clearing agents and others. Who’s looking into their activities? Shipping agents’ tariffs are even higher than terminal operators’ charges but nobody talks about that. There are a lot of charges that the ship agents are not supposed to charge but they do. Who’s looking at those things?”, Haastrup asked.
She said it is unfair to blame terminal operators, otherwise known as concessionaires, for the cost of doing business at the port.

“The concessionaires have put in a lot of investments for efficient operations. For instance, within one year that we took over, we were able to increase the turnaround of vessels by about 75 per cent; in three to four years, we had doubled that. In five to six years, we had increased the same by over 200 per cent. If you do not develop the port or you do not invest in port operations, there is no way you can achieve that”, she stated.
Haastrup also faulted claims that terminal handling charges in Nigeria are high.
According to her: “At times, people talk about our tariff. It is not something that is out of this world. If you compare our storage, terminal handling tariffs with what obtains abroad, we’re still cheap. When we took over in 2006, NPA was actually collecting more in terms of cargo dues. They brought the concessionaires tariff down by 33 per cent. In other words, they reduced cargo dues by 33 per cent before we took over. NPA was actually doing it for more. Don’t forget, all those malpractices of those days were there before we took over.
“For instance, if you’re to bring in your ship, you’ll probably have to pay through your nose. Also, there was serious congestion in the ports. Congestion today, by the grace of God, has become almost a thing of the past. As I’m talking now, I’m the one canvassing for ships. I’m the one waiting for ships to come. I tell you, because of the efficiency in the Nigerian ports, Republic of Benin has suffered a lot.”
She said Nigerian importers who prefer to use ports of neighbouring countries are those who are trying to evade import duty and not because of terminal handling charges.

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