COVID-19: Clearing Agents Stranded At Port As Banks, Shipping Companies Fail to Operate

…ANLCA Urges members to be ready for War
By DAPO OLAWUNI
Contrary to insinuations by terminal operators and the Nigerian Shippers Council that clearing agents and freight forwarders were not coming forward to take delivery of their consignments, the agents have expressed frustrations over the inability of the banks, shipping companies to operate at full scale.
The Zonal Coordinator of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Sir John Offorbike led other Western Zone Chairmen of the association on a sensitisation tour of port terminals in Lagos on Friday, while accessing the impact of the lockdown declared by the federal government due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
He said that freight forwarders must be protected from paying demurrage and storage charges due to the fact that banks and the shipping companies are not on ground to facilitate cargo clearance.
Offorbike while addressing scores of freight forwarders at TICT Terminal noted that,  agents are on ground to clear their cargoes, but they cannot pay Customs duty because the banks, despite shippers Council assurances are not working. He said the shipping companies are not equally operating.
According to him, freight forwarding is a chain that comprises the banks, shipping companies, dockworkers among others. Without any of the chain working, port cannot achieve results.
He appealed to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to implement its earlier directive to terminal operators and shipping companies that demurrage and storage should be waived at this period of lockdown.
He said “The Federal Government knowing fully well that the next source of revenue after the crude oil is the maritime sector, they exempted our members and port operators from the lockdown, but unfortunately, government did not give us access to the port to work”
“We thank the government for putting this lockdown, it is not a punishment to us, it is to our own benefit to ensure we dont contract the Coronavirus”
“We have done the needful, written letters to terminal operators before now, for them to take note that demurrage and rent should be waved after the lockdown”
“But some people are going around calling people to come to work, and that work is going on, where are the banks? We cannot even pay duty, and this our work involves so much money.
The CBN have said banks should not process any cheques within this lockdown”
“The banks are not working, the shipping companies close shop by 11, o clock, government said we should maintain social distancing, but if you go to the port now, you would see clearing agents above 500 struggling to make bookings at shippingcompanies, only 2 staff are attending to them” he said
Offorbike assured the gathered freight forwarders that the leadership of the whole association are working for their interests.
“But where I would be angry with you is that after the whole lockdown, somebody is asking you to pay demurrage and you go ahead to pay, when we say let’s lockdown the port, you must come out” he charged them
The freight forwarders who took turns to explain their challenges to the Western Zone chairmen lamented that terminal operators have told them point blank that they are not aware of any directive from NPA to waive demurrage and that they will not comply.
Also speaking, Chairman of Tin Can Island Chapter of ANLCA, Prince Segun Oduntan noted that the directive coming from the government agencies; the NPA, Shippers Council and the Council for the Regulation of freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) is conflicting.
According to him, customs brokers are ready to stay at home due to the lockdown, but it was the NPA that declared that the port is opened for them to come forward and clear cargoes, while Shippers Council announced provision of buses.
Oduntan lamented that it is difficult to work online because many of the shipping companies and terminal operators are not automated. He said only 20% of them are online.
He said “Custom brokers are also Nigerians who have families and loved ones. But when they open their phones and started seeing on the social media that they should come to work and clear their cargoes, how do we get to the port”
“Some of the agents have already started their jobs halfway before the lockdown, some of them cannot sleep, some have developed high blood pressure. If the association instruct them to stay home, they would stay, but a lot of conflicting instructions keep coming out and this is making people lost confidence in leadership of the association”
“CBN have said there would be no clearing of cheques, there are certain amount of money that you cannot do the transfer within the system, majority of our terminal owners and shipping companies,  just twenty percent of them are online,  apart from APM Terminals and Maersk Line. So it is difficult to work online”
PTML Terminal chairman of ANLCA, Elder Oluwole Obey appealed to the Nigerian Shippers Council and the NPA to prevail on shipping companies and terminal operators to waive demurrage and storage charges.
“We are not the problem, we are coming to the port but we cannot perform our duties”
Apapa Chapter Chairman of ANLCA, Chief Dom Onyeka said that at Apapa port, the situation is the same, he said freight forwarders are ready to work but some of the truckers, bankers, dockworkers who are part of the clearing chain cannot access the port because of the lockdown.
“We are appealing to government to talk to the operators because the demurrage is counting, they should waive it so that their would be peace” he said
On his part, the KLT Chapter Chairman of ANLCA, Comrade Goddy Sewa Soleji lamented that after the federal government’s pronouncement that the port should be exempted from the lockdown, there has been no full operations at the port.
“It is just skeletal operations we are seeing, even the movement to the port is an issue, the Shippers Council and NPA said they have provided buses to convey people to the port to do their business, but unfortunately,  the buses are not there, some of our members that have vehicles could not even gain access because the security agencies on the highway”
“Even we that are in the port now, we are not working,  the banks , shipping companies and terminals are not working,  only the Customs are on ground , and yet we cannot pay duty, this means that there is no operations. Our jobs are accruing demurrage” he lamented

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