By Godfrey Bivbere

TERMINAL operators under the aegis of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and freight forwarders in the country are at war over who is responsible for high cost of doing business at the nation’s ports.

While STOAN through its chairman, Princess (Dr.) Vicky Haastrup, recently called on the Federal Government to beam its searchlight on the activities of shipping agents, freight forwarders and operatives of government agencies at the ports, freight forwarders are accusing STOAN of slamming chargies above international industry standard.

The STOAN chairman who is also the Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of ENL Consortium, operators of Terminals A and B of the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), said if government was desirous of bringing down the cost of doing business at the ports, it must focus on the units mentioned above.

She said that despite reduction in terminal handling charges by terminal operators in 2006; cost of doing business at the ports remained high because the activities of shipping agents, freight forwarders and operatives of government agencies had not been regulated

“At the ports, there are so many factors that can militate against bringing down costs of operations. We have so many people who operate within the port system. We have the concessionaires, the shipping agents, clearing agents and numerous government agencies.

“The concessionaires are not responsible for the increase in the cost of operations at the ports. There are shipping agents; clearing agents and others. Who’s looking into their activities? Shipping agents’ tariffs are even higher than terminal operators’ charges but nobody talks about that. There are a lot of charges that the ship agents are not supposed to charge but they do. Who’s looking at those things?” Haastrup asked.

Responding, National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Eugene Nweke, described the accusation as unfortunate because they were the ones actually driving up the cost of port operations.

The NAGAFF boss explained that the absence of a commercial regulator and the fact that government listen to STOAN makes made act as if they are above the law. He said what STOAN charge as port and terminal charges is above the international industry average.

Nweke pointed out that STOAN was blackmailing them by its claim because there is no commercial regulator and that until government responds to the need of stakeholders, terminal operators will continue to take laws in their hands.

Similarly, Pastor Babatunde Shittu, Managing Director of Shiba Services Limited, who described the accusation as “very funny”, explained that it takes three days or more for terminal operators to position containers for examination or scanning while they also charge freight forwarders and their importers for the delay. He also claimed shipping company charges and collection of Debit Notes from shipping companies take a day. He pointed out that it is a transaction that should not take an hour through the internet.

He also blamed the leaders of both freight forwarders and clearing agents for not coming out to say the true position of things at the ports.” He stressed that until the leaders do the right thing, such laughable accusations would continue, he concluded.

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