Bottlenecks of manual clearing at seaports - PUNCH
Cargo clearing system in Nigerian ports could be faster than it currently is if there are functional scanners at the ports, ANNA OKON writes
As the recipient of over 60 per cent of the cargo coming into the West African region, scanners are needed to facilitate efficient cargo clearing in the Nigerian ports.
Unfortunately, however, Nigeria has been unable to deploy this very essential tool in its cargo clearing process.
At a recent interactive forum with the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, reiterated the call for deployment of scanners in the seaports.
She noted that cargo clearing process would be much faster than it is currently if scanners were used to check containers.
Also, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, noted that the lack of automation was the reason things were slow at the Nigerian ports.
He said with technology, all the energy and resources dissipated in a bid to stem smuggling of drugs and dangerous weapons into the country would not be necessary and the rate of these criminal activities would drop.
The Customs have also lamented the absence of scanners at the ports. The existing scanners, according to them, were not functioning optimally when they took over the equipment from the service providers.
The Nigeria Customs Service said it had always been its desire to limit human contact as much as possible in the cargo clearing process.
However, it noted that its hands were tied as far as the purchase of scanners was concerned since this had been under the purview of the Ministry of Finance.
Many are of the view that the bureaucracy associated with procurement process in Nigeria has made it impossible to speed up the purchase of scanners for the ports.
The Director General, Lagos Chamber and Industry, Mr Muda Yusuf, said the government needed to prioritise the deployment of technology in the ports.
He noted that since there had always been complaints of smuggling of arms and ammunition and dangerous items, the best way to check this criminal act was through the use of technology.
He said, “That is the way it is done in other countries. It is shocking to to realise that in an economy as big as Nigeria, we still examine cargo physically.
“The bureaucracy of procurement needs to be reduced when procuring items needed by the Customs to do their work. Scanners at the port are down despite the huge amount of money generated on a daily basis.”
In the absence of scanners, Customs officers handle the examination of cargo manually. This is said to come enormous challenges and heavy implications.
The huge volume of cargoes handled by the seaport terminals in the country makes this process very sluggish and tedious.
On the average, each of the seaport terminals in Lagos alone positions 200 containers for Customs examination. For a 40-foot container, two hours or more will be needed for proper examination of the content.
The Comptroller General of the NCS, Col Hameed Ali (retd), said owing to lack of trust stemming from the practice of false declaration by importers, the Customs conduct 100 per cent physical examination for most of the containers.
There are some containers on fast track that are taken straight from the port to the owners’ warehouses to be examined; but these are said to constitute just about five per cent of containers billed for examination.
Huge tonnes of cargo enter the Nigerian ports every day as the country is reported to be the final destination for more than 60 per cent of the cargo coming into the West African sub region.
Our correspondent also learned that on the average, each of the terminals in Nigeria handles 4,000 containers every week; that is about 500 containers every day.
A maritime logistics expert and the Chief Executive Officer of Hermonfield Limited, Mr Tunji Olaosun, remarked that cargo examination by Customs was the most time consuming part of the cargo clearing exercise.
He said, “The way it works is that if an importer submits a bill of lading that says he has 10 containers, during examination, the Customs would want to see all the 10 containers before they proceed with the examination.
“Now the way containers are stacked in the terminals, they are not stacked in a way that the importer can go to a particular stack and identify all his containers. If there are 10 containers, he could find three in a particular stack and the rest scattered around the area.
“It will be up to the person to identify all the containers in his bill of lading and take Customs to where they are placed before they can open any of the containers.”
Olaosun, who said the gridlock along the port access road could be traced to some of the delay inside the terminal, noted that in the process of trying to locate containers and conducting 100 per cent physical examination on cthem, there are trucks waiting in the queue to enter the terminal.
According to him, as the delay goes on inside the terminal, the containers are unable to get in because those inside are still there occupying space.
To physically examine 150 containers, Customs officers would need an average of 300 hours, it was learnt.
Our correspondent also gathered that the Customs would usually examine about 70 containers a day. On the average, it would take eight days or more to examine a batch of containers.
The situation is made complex with the level of cargo turnover at the ports. Ships berth every day including Sunday and Saturdays and the containers are therefore discharged every day.
The sluggishness of the cargo clearing process translates to slow turnover of containers.
Recently some terminals in Lagos refused to collect empty containers because they reportedly had no space as the containers that were already inside the terminal had not moved out to create space for those coming in.
The entire scenario also affects earnings from the sector. Customs generate N4bn daily from the Lagos ports alone and stakeholders said with better and more efficient service delivery that amount could increase by five times.
Also with scanners, Nigerian ports would be able to handle more than 25,000 containers a week, our correspondent gathered.
The National Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr Osita Chukwu, said Nigeria lost millions of dollars to diversion of ships to other ports.
He explained that the reason importers chose to berth at ports of neigbouring countries was because of the sluggish clearing process at the ports in Nigeria, which increased cargo dwell time and cost for importers.
Amaechi has however given the promise that scanners would be installed at the ports before the end of the year or early 2020.