Importers and clearing agents have expressed displeasure over the demolition of the exit gate of APM Terminals Apapa and crippling operations at the terminal by CCECC – the Chinese contractor handling rail project at the port.
The importers and agents also berated the Federal Ministry of Transportation, which is supervising the rail project, for not issuing prior notice to industry stakeholders before asking the contractor to mobilise to the port.
Operations at the terminal were on Wednesday halted as the contractor handling the rail project blocked the truck exit gate and began demolition of structures in the terminal.
The action of the contractor hampered Customs inspection; release and exit of containers as clearing agents were unable to conclude their transactions while loaded trucks were unable to exit the terminal.
The blockade also made it impossible for empty trucks to enter the terminal to pick up containers for delivery to their owners.
Speaking with SHIPS & PORTS, Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto, took a swipe at CCECC for being insensitive to the plights of importers and clearing agents who had their cargoes trapped in the port as a result of the blockage of the terminal exit gate.
He decried the huge amount of money that has been lost to the action of the rail contractor.
Farinto urged freight forwarders and licensed customs agents whose containers could not exit the port due to the disruption to take legal action against the contractor and make them take responsibility for the cost of demurrage incurred.
“It looks as if we are in a lawless situation and even the Federal Ministry of Transportation that is saddled with the responsibility of this contract cannot even apologize to the traders whose containers are unable to deliver since yesterday (Wednesday).
“Huge amount of money has been lost because of the fact that people could not take their delivery yesterday yet no explanation or apology from the government.
“We should even give kudos to the various importers who are still managing to bring consignment through our waterways despite all the bottlenecks and the traffic gridlock menace in the industry.
“We cannot close our port or stop cargo delivery because a construction company is working to link the rail to seaports. We have visited many ports in other climes where these two things are going hand in hand.
“They have a contract to deliver within a time frame but that does not mean they should stop the economy of this country because shutting the port terminal gate will disrupt the economy of this country. It may also lead to importers paying irrelevant demurrages to shipping companies,” he said.
Farinto called on the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to liaise with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to put in place a temporary arrangement to allow unhindered exit of containers while the project lasts.
Speaking in the same vein, President, Shippers Association of Lagos State, Jonathan Nicol, said the action of the rail contractor would further compound the difficulties shippers go through to clear cargoes from the port.
Nicol, who also berated the transport ministry for not consulting with stakeholders before asking the contractor to enter the port, said rather than shut port operation, the contractor should have considered working at night when movement of containers at the port will be reduced.
“It is part of the system breakdown that we are talking about. In a situation where shippers pass through the rigour of traffic and now they cannot get their goods out, factories are suffering and workers losing their jobs, it is a terrible situation. The port is almost at a standstill as a result of construction work.
“The Ministry of Transportation should have discussed with the stakeholders before even asking the contractor to enter the port. The port is a security area. You know what it is to contract 200 trucks to move goods and you are paying between N600,000 and N700,000 per truck and you have all those bills already paid out only for you to get to the port and you can’t enter and the truck owners would not refund money. It is that bad. The cargo owners are the ones suffering all these.
“The rail line is supposed to be done probably in the night between the hours of 9pm to 6am when you will not offend anybody so that cargoes can move. All they need do is for the contractors to light up the place and for NPA to provide the light. It shouldn’t be a situation where they shut down the port completely. The backlog will be huge and what we will see is congestion induced by the government,” Nicol said.