By Eguono Odjegba
ANNOUNCEMENT by Maerskline to discontinue calls at the Lagos Ports has elicited mixed reactions from stakeholders, even as the global shipping giant has come under the hammer for jumping ship at a time of distress.
Instructively, some stakeholders have appealed to the Federal Government to take a cue from Maerskline position and urgently address all operational deficits within the Lagos ports and other ports nationwide, to forestall possible exit of additional liners from the Nigerian ports.
Maerskline had, last Thursday, said henceforth its vessels will be calling at Onne Port, South-South Nigeria, and to give the Lagos Ports which has remained the official port designation for about 90 per cent Nigerian cargo a break.
The statement said in part: “it is our pleasure to announce that our Far East (China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore) service will no longer be calling at Lagos Ports but now comes to Onne directly, giving you a reduced transit time. This is effective this Jan 2020.”
Reacting, National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Hon. Tony Nwabunike, said in as much as the development appears unavoidable, Maerskline should review its policy to patronize more than one port at a time, in view of the existence of more than four functional and efficient ports in Nigeria.
The ANLCA leader urged President Muhammadu Buhari to take more than passing interest in the affairs of the ports industry and prioritize infrastructure expansion and rehabilitation.
His words, “I wonder why Maerskline waited until the implementation of the IMO regulation on sulphur emission control vessels before making a decision to leave Lagos. Anyway, however you look at it, one can also think that they are running away from the choked Lagos ports because vessel turnaround time determines their profit making, and I suspect that their level best profit business atmosphere is no longer guaranteed by the ports in Lagos.
“It is business decision we must respect but I will like to know if the vessels they are sending to Onne is compliant with the IMO present standard. Recently, I wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari telling him that Lagos ports has expired and saturated due to official negligence. The infrastructures have been overdue for expansion, overdue for maintenance and that his government should do more than it is doing.”
Also commenting, Chairman, Skelas Group, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said “The spread of ports of call for vessels coming to Nigeria could be a panacea in resolving the issues of gridlock and congestion. The NPA and NIMASA should address the IMO concern before other liners cash on our inability to properly monitor compliance with international regulations.”
According to the Ikorodu Port Terminal chapter chairman of ANLCA, Prince Jimoh Lawal, Maerskline decision may also not be unconnected with stakeholders’ complaints of cargo liners charges and the need to stave off such controversy.
He said, “I haven’t seen the Maerskline notice to know the details, but you know their decision may be like telling us they are no longer comfortable with the port congestions in Lagos and that they have alternatives. I also think that they want to avoid complaints about liners’ overbearing charges regime such as vessel queue and delay charges, container delay deposits, storage charges etc. My only worry is that manufacturers and importers with operational base in Lagos and environs will have to face additional haulage costs and attendant risks.”
On his part, the Chairman, All Ports Unified Freight Forwarders Practitioners Association, APUFFPA, Prince Mike Okorie, said Maerskline latest decision will provide cost relief for owners of cargo destined for the South-South region and contiguous markets and manufacturing locations.
His words: “In the first place I can say I am a little happy because I will support any initiative designed to decongest Lagos ports, even at that, Lagos is still central to the sub region in terms of hub activities, so there is need to fix the ports there and stop liners and businesses from running away.
“I don’t know whether Maerskline is trying to seek avenue to operate its obsolete vessels under the IMO sulphur policy hence its decision to relocate to Onne. I think it is big enough to patronize both Lagos ports and other regional ports like Warri and Calabar.
“Cargo freight from Europe to Lagos ports is higher than from Europe to the Eastern ports, but despite that, Lagos became the official port under the policy of cargo destination since Obasanjo government. The pressure on Lagos ports also led to the explosion and failure of support infrastructure. The limit of unfair policy regime and unfair market control is what we are experiencing now.”