NPA warns shipping firms over empty containers - THE NATION
By Muyiwa Lucas
Failure by shipping firms to provide holding bays for empty containers is responsible for ports’ congestion, operators have said.
However, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, is ready to tackle the problem head on with sanctions.
She told The Nation that her agency would not renew licences of shipping firms unless they provided enough holding bays outside the ports for their empty containers.
Some operators and residents of Apapa, Lagos are in support of the NPA in its bid to sanitise the two ports.
Former President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, accused shipping firms of causing traffic congestion with their trucks laden with empty containers, which keep struggling to access the ports.
The ANLCA chief appealed to the heads of NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) to enforce the building of holding bays as a pre-requisite for shipping firms’ registration.
“A document on operational modalities for container movement was signed by the NPA since 8th March, 2012, and a communiqué was also issued on the issue at the end of a stakeholders’ meeting on Apapa traffic gridlock in Apapa Local Government Secretariat on 2nd October 2017,” he said.
Shittu urged NPA to ensure that only shipping firms should be allowed to bring empty containers from holding bays into the ports, with approval in advance from the port landlord while port managers, through terminal operators at Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, would indicate the number of containers expected into the ports daily.
NPA, he said, must also work out a ratio of the import containers and that of empty containers a vessel must take away to reduce the number of empty containers.
Also, an importer, Mr. Kayode Adelaja, decried the deplorable condition of roads around Tin Can, Coconut and Capital Oil depot by Trinity. He called on the government and maritime agencies to address the issue of empty containers and its attendant effects on the perennial gridlock in Apapa and its environs.
Ms. Bala-Usman, however, said NPA would ensure that shipping firms adhered to what was agreed in terms of maintaining a balance between what is coming in and going out.
She said: “I encourage stakeholders to write to us to the extent that you identify issues affecting this procedure, and I will also push that in our system to ensure there is adequate monitoring. I will get our team to get back to you so that we can ensure that the shipping companies adhere to what was agreed in terms of maintaining the balance between what is coming in and what is going out.”
She canvassed an inter-modal system to ease the movement of cargoes.
“I think there is a need for us to recognise the use of intermodal transportation systems. You can’t have 90 per cent of your cargoes being moved through the road alone; the road will get congested and will be spoilt. We must strengthen the utilisation of inland waterways. We must drive and have our rails system concluded; if not for the COVID-19, we would have concluded our rail connectivity,” she said.
She bemoaned the dearth of truck parks, stressing the need for designated places for trucks to stay and wait for call-up, saying: “If we don’t have designated places for trucks to wait, and only to wait for a call-up, the truck drivers will just wake up and drive to the ports.
“Lagos State Government must take ownership in providing dedicated truck terminals, where there will be linkage and a call-up with the terminal operators at the ports. But when we have 36 truck locations around the Apapa environment, how do you think you are going to sanitise the area?
‘’In the Apapa environment, we have 36 truck parks that lack any form of equipment. I have always advocated for us to have larger truck parks that are outside of the port environment, dedicated for that purpose so trucks only come when we are using the call-up system.
“Nigerian ports are not responsible for providing truck terminals. What we know is that truck parks are local government issues, it is a Lagos State issue, so the Lagos State Government must rise up to that and provide those parks,” she said.
Agreeing with Ms. Bala-Usman, a resident of Apapa and an importer, Mr. Sunday Abraham, said: “There is no bigger word to describe the agony we are going through because of empty containers. The cost implication is running into billions of naira. The demurrage is too high and beyond what smaller players, especially the small and medium enterprises, can handle.
“Having access to where you can keep your empty containers is one thing. The holding bays around the ports are not enough; so, there is a need for more.
“The infrastructure at the ports are not adequate, and this is also a challenge, as you don’t know how you can quickly be attended to and nobody is addressing the losses that are incurred.The shipping lines must be compelled by the NPA to provide holding bays,” he said. “If they have holding bays for empty containers, it would be easy for trucks to come to the port when they are needed electronically. With the way they are littered and wandering, we are not finding it easy at all in accessing the port. So, I think the only solution to the Apapa gridlock is to have a holding bay and a dedicated place where trucks can park; and at any point in time they are called upon, they will come and load their goods and go.
‘’The poor state of the port access road is also contributing to the gridlock. So, the government should endeavour to fix the road because they are collecting revenue from the port.
‘’When the policy to make shipping companies to provide holding bays for empty containers is made functional and with a good road network, it will certainly ease the congestion at the port,” another resident, Mr. Agboke Adekunle, said.
A port user, Mr. Felix Aderoju, said: “Shipping companies should also have their holding bays outside the port where the trucks can drop their empties before coming to Apapa.’