Shipping charges brouhaha: Asoluka calls for caution, fairness

Chairman of the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGFZA), Chief Chris Asoluka has advised stakeholders in the maritime industry to be cautions in addressing issues around port terminal operators’ storage charges and shipping line agency charges.

In an exclusive interview he granted SHIPS & PORTS DAILY yesterday, the renowned economist said “over-involving the judiciary” in economic matters may be counterproductive to both the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and operators.

He recommended that arbitration should used to sort out knotty areas commercial disputes.

“I think every stakeholder should be brought to the table and allow facts and logic to determine the appropriate rates. Over-involving the judiciary in economic matters is  supposed to be the last resort. It could be encourage but arbitration is supposed to be the first step because economic activities is time sensitive and going to court is like whirl wind that could blow both sides no good,” he said.

He also tasked the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to play the role of an umbiased umpire in discharging its role as economic regulator.

He said, “Shippers’ Council are the regulator and they are to protect the interest of everybody – the port users and the service providers. There should be basis for every decision they arrive at. I don’t know whether they have employed consultative approach but since they are the father of all and they want services to improve and be sustainable and the port competitive, they must maintain the balance.

“They are operating between two extremes which is to provide quality service at cost effective price and the other extreme is to ensure that port users are not reaped off.”

It would be recalled that members of the Association of Shipping Line Agencies (ASLA) on Friday secured a court injunction restraining the NSC from acting upon a notice it published on Wednesday last week slashing the shipping lines’ agency charges, among others.

Justice Ibrahim Buba who granted the order, had earlier granted a similar order in favour of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), restraining the Council from implementing a notice reversing storage charges at the nation’s seaports.

The suit number FHC/L/CS/1646/2014 was filed on behalf of ALSA and its members by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Chidi Ilogu.

Ruling on an ex-parte motion brought before him on behalf of the terminal operatos by their counsels Mr. Femi Atoyebi (SAN) and Mrs Funke Agbor, Justice Buba granted an injunction restraining the NSC and/or its agents from implementing the reversal order pending determination of the substantive suit.

He adjourned the matter to Monday 10th November 2014 for further hearing.

Meanwhile, the Apapa Area command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has lamented the ongoing strike embarked upon by clearing agents operating at the nation’s seaports, claiming that the action has affected the command’s revenue collection.

Speaking with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY yesterday, Area Project Manager of the command, Deputy Comptroller Yusuf Malanta explained that even while some documents could be processed online, containers could not exit the port because they were not examined by officers.

While he could not mention the exact amount lost by the command since the agents commenced their strike action on Monday, Malanta said the strike would definitely affect its revenue collection because no agent has been allowed to go inside the terminal to transact business in the past two days.

He said the strike action may lead to port congestion if not quickly addressed.

“This may lead to congestion at the port because they are not dropping containers for examination, they are not exiting containers and yet vessels are still coming in,” Malanta said.

He called on the Nigerian Shippers Council given its mandate as economic port regulator to call the aggrieved agents to embrace dialogue with the concerned party rather than the strike action.

“It is responsibility of the Nigerian Shippers Council to call the agents to order because we cannot sit here and be watching them; we have to call them to book,” he said.

Going by its monthly revenue target of N39 billion, it is estimated that the command is losing at least N1.3 billion daily.

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