Shippers expect arrival of new scanners to quicken cargo inspection
The recent deployment of new scanners to some seaports in Nigeria is expected to bring a positive shift in cargo clearance, eliminate delays and enhance timely delivery of cargoes to owners, shippers have say.
According to them, Customs is expected to use the opportunity offered by scanning machines to reduce the rate at which it depends on 100 percent physical inspection of containers and also increases the volume of goods processed on daily basis.
BusinessDay understands that Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) recently received some new mobile scanning machines at Onne and Tin-Can Ports and would soon receive another for Apapa Port, eight years after the Destination Inspection contract ended in December 2013.
Vicky Haastrup, chairman of Seaport Terminals Operators of Nigeria (STOAN), says the procurement of these new scanners is a welcome development that would drive ease of business at ports.
According to her, Nigeria Customs needs to be properly oriented into the use of scanning machines in order to avoid what happened with the scanners acquired by Destination Inspection agents a few years back.
“The question is who sees to the regular maintenance of those scanners? When those scanners are used, do Customs still carry out physical examination? There are cases where scanners would scan the container and Customs will still do a physical examination,” Haastrup says.
She however says that terminal operators expect that physical inspection of goods would be minimised particularly now that scanners have been deployed and put to use. She adds that doing both manual and scanning at the same time would result in a delay in cargo clearance at ports, which is not good for business at the port.
“Our hope is to see timely release of cargoes to their owners after Customs has scanned the containers as required. Terminal operators are always willing to help, and if at some point, the government allows, we can as well invest in scanners because we can recoup our money,” says Haastrup in an interview with newsmen in Lagos.
On the arrival of the new scanner at Onne Port, Auwal Mohammed, Customs Area Controller of the Command, said the arrival of the scanner is a positive milestone in the efforts to modernise Customs operations, achieve ease of doing business, facilitate trade and enhance security with easier detection of prohibited imports.
According to Mohammed, the tortuous processes involved in the physical examination of cargoes at the ports are usually time-consuming and the outcome may not be as perfect as using a scanner.
He says Customs officers are usually not able to examine more than 100 containers daily using manual inspection approach. He however says that this will change as the command will be examining about 200 containers on daily basis using the scanner.
“During a manual inspection of containers, virtually everything in the container has to be moved out and then, back into the container before the examination is concluded. So, it is cumbersome, time-consuming, and not many containers are properly examined on a daily basis. But with the coming of a scanner, which is a non-intrusive examination apparatus, the examination will now be conducted using x-ray,” Mohammed explains.
Lucky Amiwero, national president of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), who was obviously worried over the maintenance of these new scanners, blamed Customs for the failure of the former mobile and fixed scanners acquired by the Destination Inspection agents.
Amiwero, who questioned the usage of the old scanning machines at the port, says that most of those scanners acquired by DI agents are still very modern and not old as Customs claims.
“For instance, the fixed scanner at Seme border was built and delivered in 2013, while some are just three or four years older than that. Some of the scanners are quite modern, but unfortunately, it was not properly maintained by Customs,” he adds.
Cargo inspection, which is a critical part of port business has been challenging because Nigeria through its inspection agencies led by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other government agencies, does physical inspection due to lack of scanners in the ports to enable drive-through inspection.
But with the acquisition and utilisation of electronic scanning machines, it would take shorter time for containers to be inspected and for them to leave the port location to importer’s warehouses.
Meanwhile, Timi Bomodi, deputy national Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service assures port users that those new scanners would be well-handled by trained and qualified Customs officers.