On August 4, 2020, there were multiple explosions at the Port of Beirut in the capital city of Lebanon, after 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored improperly in a warehouse at the port caught fire.
According to reports, the multiple blasts killed close to 218 people, injured around 7,000, damaged about $15 billion in property and rendered thousands homeless.
It was also reported then that the cargo that exploded was confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the abandoned ship called MV Rhosus in September 2013, six years before the explosion, and stored in Beirut Port without proper safety measures.
Before its interception, MV Rhosus, a Russian-leased cargo ship loaded with ammonium nitrate heading to Mozambique, reportedly made an unscheduled stop in Beirut due to financial and mechanical troubles.
Lebanese officials, citing unpaid fees and safety concerns, prevented the vessel from sailing, leading to it being abandoned for over six years at the Beirut Port by its owner.
In Nigeria, major ports in Apapa, Tin-Can, and Onne are being threatened by a growing number of overtime cargoes at the port terminals.
Today, there are over 6,000 twenty-foot equivalent units of overtime and abandoned containers with expired goods that were either detained by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) or trapped for over 10 years in Apapa, Tin-Can, and Onne ports.
This overtime cargoes, analysts say, have not only become a potential threat to ease of doing business as ships calling Nigerian ports now spend between 18 to 25 days waiting time before berthing due to lack of sufficient space, but also put lives and property in danger.
A source close to one of the terminals in Lagos told BusinessDay that the majority of the overtime containers in Lagos ports belong to the government.
“No insane businessman would use his or her money to import goods worth millions of naira only to abandon them at the port. This is why about 80 percent of overtime goods today are owned by the government. Some of them are cargoes for power, aviation, rail projects, among others,” the source said.
For instance, the Transmission Company of Nigeria said hundreds of containers were scattered in different port terminals for years.
Another source close to the Lagos Complex of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) said the last time an auction was done in Nigerian ports was 2015.
The source said the NPA has written several times to Customs’ management, suggesting on-the-spot auction within the ports without having to invest in transporting the overtime cargo to Ikorodu Lighter Terminal.
On the implication for ease of doing business, Emeka Nnajiofor, a Lagos-based clearing agent, said it takes two weeks for terminal operators to drop a container for examination due to space constraints.
According to him, when an agent requests cargo examination, the terminal may drop the container two per day, particularly in the case of multiple containers that belong to the same person.
According to him, the terminal drops the containers in bits in order to manage the space available in the terminal, which is why it takes two weeks to complete the examination of 10 containers.
To curb the problem of overtime cargoes, the NCS can learn from Bangladesh’s Customs authority, which started last week to destroy a number of long-standing containers at the Chittagong Port.
Destroyed in a free place close to the dumping station of Chittagong City Corporation, the officials said the process would take nearly a month and would help free vital yard space at Chittagong Port.
Many port users in Nigeria have called on Customs to either auction or destroy the overtime containers at the nation’s ports to free up space and avoid putting lives and property in danger.