Importers groan over delays, alleged inefficiency of service providers
Importers using Nigerian ports as destination for their cargoes have raised alarm over the growing level of avoidable cost of doing business, a fall out of inefficient and poor customer service by private sector providers.
The importers blame shipping companies for poor customer relations which result in delays and cost. APM Terminals, a front-line terminal operator, is being accused of causing delays by resorting to manual cargo release since the global system of Maersk Group was hacked in June, and led to congestion in some of the 76 ports run by the global port service provider acoss the world.
Some importers confirmed to BusinessDay that immediately after the attack in June, some countries where its terminals were located switched to manual processing and paperwork, causing delays and congestion for cargo owners. However, processes like container tracking, transport plans, documentation and invoices were made available through its online portal, weeks after.
But APM Terminals said that due to the cyber attack, it briefly put a hold on its online services, which included invoicing, payments and receipting, until it was sure there were no other threats to its system.
“As a result, we resorted to servicing our customers manually but this was only for two days after the attack. We have since returned to providing online services to our customers,” said Augustine Fischer, the company’s general manager, Communication and Sustainability in Nigeria, in an email to BusinessDay.
Fischer said that Maersk Group has since recovered from the cyber attack and has been servicing its customers effectively and efficiently, as before the attack.
According to him, accusing APM Terminals or Maersk Line of causing cargo clearance delays in Nigerian ports, is incorrect, as neither APM Terminals nor Maersk Line, is involved in cargo clearance and does not do manual release.
“Maersk Line is a shipping company, otherwise courier, that moves the cargo from port of origin to port of destination on the request of the cargo owner, while APM Terminals is a port operator, who offloads the containers from the ship, stores the container in the terminal and loads on the cargo owners’ truck after examination and clearance by the authorities, namely the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), therefore, is wrong to accuse us of causing delays,” he explained.
Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold-Link Investment Limited, a Lagos-based clearing and forwarding company, said “Cargo clearance from Apapa has been a serious problem to importers and agents because the delay from the Apapa Container Terminal makes it difficult for trucks to go into the port. It takes as long as three to four days for trucks to have access to the port and load cleared containers, and another one week for loaded trucks to leave the port.”
According to him, processing documents for the purpose of clearing goods from Apapa, which used to be one of the fastest, has been difficult since after the global system of Maersk Group was hacked, such that both the shipping line and their terminal, have been accused of using manual procedure in place of automation.
“Before now, clearing containers by Maersk Line took nothing less than one week but now, it takes two to three weeks and this accumulates demurrage and rent charges for importers, adds cost to the owners of cargo,” Anakebe disclosed.
Anakebe said that almost all the shipping companies operating in the nation’s ports are culpable of poor customer relations, given the fact that retrieving container deposit from shipping liners currently takes longer than necessary.
Emma Nwabunwanne, a Lagos based importer, who bemoaned the general poor customer relations among shipping companies calling Nigerian ports, said government needs to mandate shipping firms to have container holding-bays away from the port to fast track dropping of empty containers by truckers.
Nwabunwanne said the long queue of trucks with empty containers, which takes an average of four days to enter the port, adds to cost, which importers pay as demurrage for not returning the empty within the deadline.
Reacting to this, Bolaji Akinola, spokesperson of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) said in a telephone interview, that blaming service providers, especially terminal operators for the problems in the ports would not address the fundamental problems of Nigerian ports, rather it would take government’s attention away from the real problem.
“The biggest problem to ease of doing business in the ports is manual and physical inspection of cargo by the officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) because none of the multi-billion naira scanning equipment acquired by the destination inspection service providers and handed over to Customs, is working,” he said.
Akinola said the Federal Government needs to make scanners functional to ease doing business in the ports. He further stated that APM Terminals is a global company which runs over 70 terminals across Europe, Africa, the US and Far East Asia, with single model of operations, which cannot be comprised. He ranks them as leaders in the global terminal operations space.
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