As controversy swirls interpretation of NPA’s directive
By Godwin Oritse
THE Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, may be mulling sanctions against terminal operators that have failed to comply with the waivers on demurrage and storage charges it ordered following the advent of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic in Nigeria.
Some groups of clearing agents who spoke to Vanguard Maritime Report have claimed that terminal operators are flouting the NPA’s 21-day demurrage freeze, charging them for clearance of cargoes within the period.
They also indicated that a controversy seems to have enveloped NPA’s directive as the terminal operators argue that the suspension order should only apply to cargoes brought into the terminal during the 21-days period starting from the date of NPA’s letter.
The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, has accused the terminal operators of non-compliance. The Council of Managing Directors of Nigeria Customs Licensed Agents, CMDNCLA, also cried out, saying that most terminal operators at the nation’s seaports have disobeyed the orders of the NPA and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, which mandated the shipping companies and terminal operators to waive demurrage charges during the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic.
NPA’s head of public affairs, Mr. Adams Jatto, told Vanguard Maritime Report that the Authority was ready to sanction the terminal and shipping operators flouting the directive. He, however, added that since the directive was given to the terminal operators, no clearing agent has come forward with evidence of payment of demurrage and storage charges.
Speaking to Vanguard Maritime Report on the development, the National Vice President of the ANLCA, Mr. Kayode Farinto, said that they have overwhelming evidence of collection of demurrage and storage charges by terminal operators.
Farinto said that ANLCA has written to the management of the NPA on the development adding that NPA told them that terminal operators have been frustrating the compliance of the directive. He also confirmed that NPA was making plans to sanction erring terminal operators in due time.
The Council in a petition to the Managing Director, NPA, signed by Lucky Amiwero, with a copy made available to Vanguard Maritime Report, drew the attention of the Federal Government to the disobedience of the terminal operators and shipping companies.
The petition entitled: “Refusal to Adhere to the Waiver of Demurrage and Rents by Terminal Operators and Shipping Companies as Directed by the Federal Government as a Result of the COVID-19 Lockdown Restriction”, reads in part: “We hereby draw the attention of the Federal Government to the refusal of terminals operators and shipping companies to waive the demurrage and rents starting from March 23, 2020, issued by Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and consented to by the presidential task force on COVID 19.
“As at Monday, April 20, 2020 the terminal and shipping companies have been collecting all rents and demurrage from Licensed Customs Agents, LCA, and refuse to grant the waiver even when Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, has issued the second letter dated April 8, 2020, which makes it exactly 27 days now from March 23, 2020.
“However, as directed by the Presidential Task Force on COVID -19, Nigerian Ports Authority as the agency directed to bring about seamless coordination, should compel the shipping companies and the terminals to comply with the Federal Government directive due to frustration of Port activities up till date.”
The group commended NPA for pushing for the waivers for an initial 21 days and the extension to accommodate the period of the lockdown, adding that this will bring about stability in the operations of the ports, which have been skeletal up till date.
Recall that the NPA had, in a letter dated April 2, 2020 with reference number HQ/GM/MRS/OP.L1/Vol ii/347 signed by its General Manager, Monitoring and Regulatory Services, Ugo Madubuike, for the Managing Director, directed the terminal operators to provide relief for businesses by suspending rent charges on consignments.
According to a copy of the letter titled, “Relief Measures to Port Users Due To Outbreak of COVID-19”, directed to the Managing Director of Port and Terminal Multiservice Limited, PTML, the Authority said the rent free period should start from Monday, March 23, 2020 for initial period of 21 days.
It reads, “Following the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in line with the global trend of providing reliefs to businesses for the benefit of the general populace, you are hereby directed to suspend rent charges on consignments with effect from Monday, March 23, 2020 for an initial period of 21 days.
“The Authority recognizes the financial implication of the policy on your terminal and is considering a shift in our operational charges to ameliorate the situation. This is presented in line with the objectives of the Ease-Of-Doing-Business, as well as the sensitivity of the Authority to the current situation and sustenance of national economic activities and for immediate compliance.”