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Shipping liners squeezed by high cost as escalating port congestion pushes waiting days up to 50

…firms paying minimum of $20,000 on Nigerian waters

Shipping liners in Nigeria are now spending close to 50 days waiting time before having access into the nation’s seaports in Lagos to discharge laden goods due to the escalating congestion in the port terminals.

By implication, ships pay a minimum of $20,000 to $100,000 per call at the Lagos Secure Anchorage, managed by private security firm known as Ocean Marine Solutions Ltd (OMSL), to wait for their turn to enter Nigerian ports.

Checks shows that it costs about $2,000 per day stay as the Lagos Safe Anchorage, and the heightening port congestion could be attributable to the worsening Ease of Doing Business as Nigerian ports. The ports have yet to achieve a 24-hour operation as mandated by Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business signed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, three years ago.

Hassan Bello, executive secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), said there is serious congestion in the port as majority of the terminals are recording 95 percent yard occupancy due to failure of cargo owners to take delivery of their consignments.

“Right now, there is congestion at the ports and shipping companies are paying thousands of dollars every day. The waiting days for vessels on Nigerian waters have gone up to 50 days and this is impacting on the cost of doing business,” said Bello.

He said that Nigerian seaport is congested, and one of the reasons, is that the ports operate only from Monday to Friday.

Bello, who stated that during the Covid-19 lockdown Shippers Council was able to extend port operation days to include Saturday and Sunday, said the officers of Nigeria Customs cooperated, and freight forwarders were also on ground to pick their goods at weekends.

According to him, there is need for all the parties involved in cargo clearing at the port to begin to operate 24 hours just like the airport, if the nation’s port system must move forward.

“We need electronic bill of laden which would make it compulsory for people to transact online. Another important thing is to ensure the port has inter-modal cargo evacuation system. We have the train in some terminals, the barges and also the road. We cannot have one mode of transportation because it means chaos,” he said.

Speaking on port congestion and long waiting days, Hadiza Bala Usman, managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), said to ensure efficiency in port operation, NPA has mandated Maersk Line, which the largest container carrier is calling Nigerian ports, to use other ports when Apapa Container Terminal is not available.

According to her, the whole of the 50 days waiting time is not spent sitting on Nigerian anchorage, but used to drop cargoes in other West African ports.

“We have discussed with vessel owners to clarify on the timing spent within our anchorage and that discussion has shown that we have between seven and 10 days waiting within our anchorage for vessels that comes into our port while we have vessels that come to Nigerian ports to pick up a number before proceeding to other neighbouring ports to offload their cargoes, and they are the vessels that spend 50 days,” she said.

Usman further said that there are vessels that spend 10 days sitting physically on Nigerian anchorage while the 50 days waiting time is for those that come to pick up number before going to other West African ports. She assured that the NPA is working to improve on the 10 days waiting time and to also have a situation where Nigeria can be the first port of call.

Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold-Link Investment Ltd, a clearing and forwarding company in Lagos, who told our correspondent that Customs do not work at weekends and public holidays, said that even 24-hour operation is no longer obtainable due to the persistent Apapa gridlock.

“Most Customs officers leave the office at 4pm every day to find their way out of the port premises and the rain has also worsened the traffic situation in Apapa. The Customs do not work at weekends but cargo examination starts from 12pm and ends around 2pm or 3pm every day,” he said.

Anakebe however stated that importers and their agents can take delivery at weekends but every other protocol such as cargo examination, payment of duties and other document processes do not take place at weekends.

On cargo evacuation, Usman said that Nigerian port cannot function well, if 90 percent of cargoes are moved by road alone.

According to her, seamless evacuation of cargoes using intermodal transportation system that include rail, inland waters and road, will enthrone efficiency in port operation, and help decongest access roads into Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports.

“We recognise the utilisation of intermodal transport system in cargo evacuation and this is why the Minister of Transportation has been actively pursuing the rail project to link Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports with rail connection to achieve efficient and seamless evacuation of cargoes,” she said.

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