BARGE ACCIDENT: Shippers, Freight Forwarders Demand Resignation of Heads of NPA, NIMASA, NIWA

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By DAPO OLAWUNI

Maritime industry stakeholders including shippers and freight under six professional bodies have called for the immediate resignation of Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala Usman, Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr Bashir Jamoh and the Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) over a recent barge accident in Lagos.

At a joint press conference held in Apapa Lagos yesterday, the six groups including Shippers Association Lagos State (SALS), Ndigboamaka Progressive Traders Association, Association of Registered Freight Forwarding of Nigeria (AREFFN) African Professional Freight and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON) Congregation of Registered Freight Forwarding Practitioners of Nigeria (CREFFPON) Justice and People-Care Foundation, as well as Sea Empowerment and Research Centre called for the resignation.

Recall that there was a barge accident which occurred on the 6th of March, 2021 along KLT/Mile 2 – Maza Maza water channels where about six (6) 40ft containers said to contain electronics (new LED TV sets) went down the water deep. The containers are valued at Five Hundred Million Naira (N500, 000,000.00)

Leading the press conference, former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Dr Eugene Nweke and President of SALS, Rev Jonathan Nicol, said the fact that unlicensed and unregistered barge operators are operating on Nigerian water channels, it means somebody has failed in its duties because the port is a highly regulated security zone.

They said the agencies of government; NPA, NIWA and NIMASA failed to do their jobs and this led to huge losses for the cargo owners. The stakeholders demand full compensation for the cargo owner, and that the report of the investigation undertaken by NIMASA over the incident be made public as soon as possible.

The stakeholders further called on the supervising Ministry of Transportation to address the inter-agency supremacy tussle among the three agencies and the attendant overlapping functions of the regulators.

They said the absence of a standby functional emergency rapid salvage rescue team during accident further led to damage of the cargoes

Speaking on the recent accident, Rev Nicol, the SALS President said “All concerned stakeholders folded hands and watched helplessly as the containers drifted into the bottom deep. To sum it up, there was no cohesive, restructured and practicable regulatory architecture for the barge operations prior to the commencement of barge/jetty operations whereby professionalism, safety and security concerns was never a driving force rather profit making is the core driving force.

“At this juncture, we imagined the huge loss and pains the cargo owners are going through on an operational hazard that is avoidable but because someone sitting on an executive position allowed administrative laxity to thrive in a delicate and sensitive industry engagements. In a sane environment, someone would have voluntarily resigned from office for failing in his duties but it is not so in an atmosphere where corrupt practices thrives and even the perpetrators go unpunished or unsanctioned rather, they are celebrated and reckoned with in operation”

“We hereby demand for full compensation for the cargo owners, as the conditions and situation leading to the loss of cargo is not theirs. The operational arrangement was skewed against them, the non-firm supervision and monitoring by the agencies of the Government is not their fault, as they relied on the leadership to safeguard their investment. Hence, regulatory objectives and administration failed them”

“Hence, the three regulatory agencies mentioned by BOAN for their overlapping functions, are all under one control and supervisory ministry, Ministry of Transport. We therefore request Ministry of Transport to direct for the immediate compensation for all losses incurred by the affected shippers”

“We demand that the Head of the three (3) agencies vested with these regulatory responsibilities namely NPA, NIWA, and NIMASA should resign forthwith”

“Above all, the transport Ministry should step up its Supervisory roles in the port operations” he said

While highlighting other challenges hithering trade facilitation at the port, the former NAGAFF President, Dr Eugene Nweke further lamented the transfer of cargoes from port terminals to bonded terminals without recourse to owners of the cargoes.

He said port concessionaires charge as high N250,000 to tansfer cargoes from Tin Can Island Port to Kirikiri area of Apapa.

He said “From facts available, the shipping line and the terminal operators unilaterally resort to convey containers to off-dock terminals using barges /approximate jetties could be said to have been borne out of the need to salvage the port congestion and the bad port access roads chaotic situation”

“But such unilateral decision without recourse to the cargo owner (Shipper) is in negation of the contract of affreightment, in this case, the contract is premised on a named Port of Loading and a named Port of Discharge at which point the carrier instructs the terminal operator to release the cargo to the
shipper. It is on this agreed terms that, the carrier earns its ocean freight”

“This unilateral practice of transferring the same imports to an off-dock terminal via barges or hauling by road without the consent or recourse to the cargo owners is a
professional and business aberration in all standards.

“An ideal best practices entails that, not only that the shippers be adequately put on notice of the intention to locally divert their cargo to an off-dock terminal, but that their consent should be sought and given the opportunity to re-enter into a local contractual obligations and terms with regards to the local diversion of their shipments Via truck or barges”

“Such agreement will afford them the opportunity to renegotiate appropriate insurance risks coverage and reasonable and competitive freight/trucking and handling charges”

“Unfortunately, all local arrangement is carried out without the consent of the cargo owners including all manner of extra charges and levies slammed on them” he said

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