We are not to blame for port congestion – Kotik

Tin-can Island Container Terminal Limited (TICT), the container terminal operator at the Tin-Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC), Apapa, Lagos, has been in the eye of the storm in the past few weeks over looming congestion at the terminal. Amidst a barrage of criticisms, the terminal operator has maintained dignified silence, until SHIPS & PORTS DAILY decided to break that silence by interviewing the TICT Chairman, Mr. Yehuda Kotik, on the looming congestion. Kotik knows Nigeria’s shipping environment like the back of his hand. He understands the nuances of the sector having served it for over fifteen years. Prior to assuming his present role at TICT in 2007, he worked as the Managing Director of Lagos and Niger Shipping Agencies Limited (LANSAL). He was also the Regional Manager of Zim Integrated Shipping in Israel. 
Excerpts:

Is there congestion at TICT? 
TICT is now up to its capacity.

Since when did congestion start? 
The congestion started actually by end of last month, during the Muslim holiday, Eid el Fitr, when neither the Customs nor the scanning company were working, and after it was a weekend. And during about five days, customers haven’t come to take delivery. As we deliver about 900 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) per day, you can imagine that around 4,500 TEUs were stacked, but, at the same time, we had continued to discharge containers from vessels. If you look on the yearly statistics, you can realise that each year, as from July, there is an increase on import volumes. And this, all together, is only a part of the congestion.

What is/are the reason(s) for this congestion? 
There is not only one reason. There are several reasons for it. In order to understand it well, I want to mention that when the Nigerian Government embarked on the port reforms and decided to concession the port terminals, it was because the terminals handled by NPA (Nigerian Ports Authority) were not efficient and the aim was that those terminals will operate in the highest standard like any other modern terminal in the world.
Indeed, it was a brilliant idea by the Nigerian Government. However, the terminal operator is only one component in the port complex. Port operation is a whole chain of operations and the terminal operator is only one link of this chain. We, as terminal operators, have invested a lot in infrastructure, equipment, sophisticated technology, working methods 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to bring this terminal to the highest standard. However, what are the other links in the chain that, unfortunately, contribute to the congestion, doing?
As we are operating 24/7, all other parties like Customs and other agencies in the port are working regular working hours different from other ports in the world. There is a poor performance by these other agencies that creates a big backlog.
In each port in the world, the dwell time of import containers is three to five days. In Nigeria, the average is about 20 days, and, for this, we hold responsible the importers and their clearing agents.
As we have built a terminal gate with several lanes in and out, the NPA Gate has remained the same without any change for the last seven years, and it creates a bottleneck that slows down the traffic.
The transportation infrastructure around the port is poor and the whole traffic system is slow and slow traffic around the port is one of the causes of congestion.

Alleged lack of equipment at the terminal is said fuel the congestion. Is this correct? 
It is absolutely not correct. We have invested in equipment five times more that we have committed in our Lease Agreement with NPA/BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprises).

Is it true that TICT is profiting off the congestion? 
How can we profit from the congestion, if it became an obstacle to bring more cargo? Unfortunately, there are other parties in the industry that are trying to make a profit of it. The answer is absolutely no!

What have you done to offer palliatives to your customers in the face of the current challenges? 
We are convincing the shipping lines to stem our cargo to our off dock base that has 3,000 TEUs capacity. We are covering the transportation cost without any additional cost to the importers. We have also provided waiver for storage to importers for days of delay, even when we are not to blame or liable for it. In order to speed up the process, we have hired additional 12 trucks. There are additional five RTGs (rubber-tyred gantry cranes) and yard tractors and trailers in the pipeline as part of our long range strategic plane.

What, in your opinion, is the way out of the current logjam? 
If all the reasons I have mentioned will be fixed, and, especially, if the importers and their clearing agents will take delivery of their cargo and stop using the terminals as warehouses for their containers, the problem will be solved.
We can do everything, and, even, we will invest 10 times more, but, without collaboration of the other links of the chain, nothing will be improved. Only when those other players in the port industry show real responsibility that you will see a big change in Nigerian ports for the benefit of the economy and the Nigerian nation.