Terminal charges: Agents, operators set for another showdown

By The Citizen
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Freight forwarders and terminal operators are set for another showdown over disagreement on terminal charges. This follows the failure of the management of APM Terminal to honour the agreement reached with the agents to end the strike action which grounded port operations at APM terminal few weeks ago, as well as the judgment of the High Court on Wednesday, which directed terminal operators to comply with the directive of the Nigeria Shippers Council to reduce terminal charges.

Last month, freight forwarding groups went on strike for ten days to protest high and unapproved charges imposed by AP Terminal. The freight forwarding groups include the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF and National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLC. The groups demanded among other things that, 'Booking for container examination/scanning to start at 8am and to end at 2pm. All containers booked must be dropped/scanned at once. Examination should start at 9am and continue till 6pm. 'After the entrance of a truck into the main gate of the port with 'Terminal Delivery Order, TDO', failure by APM Terminal to load, the TDO will remain valid without further rating or payment till whenever the container will be loaded. 'APM Terminal and shipping companies have turned our trucks and roads to the empty container bay, exposing our drivers and motorists who must be on their trucks for 24 hours basis to untold hardship and security risks, while agents continue to lose their shipping companies as long as the containers are on the truck. We call for an urgent agreement on how to drop empty containers at a holding bay outside the terminal. 'Free period before storage charges to be extended to 10 days from the day of discharge of containers from the ship. 'Terminal storage and shipping company demurrage charges must be waived throughout the period of this service withdrawal. Public holidays not to be charged and TDO should be written on Saturdays and Sundays.' The strike action was however suspended following agreement between the agents and the management of APM Terminal. Vanguard however gathered that the company has reneged on three of the agreements and the agents are threatening to resume the strike action. Vanguard gathered that several meetings have been held over the impending strike between the management of APM Terminal and representatives of some of the freight forwarding group but no agreement has so far been reached. Confirming this development to Vanguard, Chairman of Apapa Chapter of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Olumide Fakanlu, said that a representative of APM Terminal signed the agreement promising to abide and comply with the above but stressed that they have reneged on all but one. According to him, 'They are not abiding with point one to three of the agreement, the level of discussion is that we want to assist them to abide because it looks like it is a very difficult task for them. We gave them seven days but they came to appeal. We held a meeting where we said ok, if you think it is difficult for you to do your work, then for the interest of Nigeria as a whole we will assist you. 'If one company can be given 50 percent of the whole import and export traffic in and out of Nigeria, you can then understand what is happening now. AP Molar has been given 47 percent of all the import into Nigeria, so we just have to consider that. It is a matter of moving from government monopoly to private monopoly, the portion they took is too much for them. We realized that, that is why we said that we will collaborate with them to make them comply but it won't be by force but they are drafting our operatives to work with them. 'That is what they have been saying for the past six years, no capacity (no space). That they cannot handle more than 200 containers per day and that would not be enough for Nigerians. There are a lot of space at the terminal that they are wasting, so it is just a matter of interest probably, may be they have a hidden agenda, that is as per revenue (What they want to get from the present situation). Vanguard also gathered that the decision to resume the strike action may have suffered a setback, as one of the groups, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, have decided not to participate in the strike. Commenting on this, the ANLCA Apapa boss said, 'If they pull out we won't blame them because we are not unaware that some operators in the industry may have compromised their stand and it is not our business anyway. Whatever compromise that they may have put themselves into is their cross but as for ANLCA, we do have a standard and ANLCA is known is an international organization with high moral standard.' On his part, Mr. Boniface Aniebonam, Founder of the  National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), said that his association decided to pull out of the ongoing industrial action in order to save the Nigerian economy from further hardship. 'The economy is losing at least N5 billion daily. Customs is losing N1.4 billion daily. Government's external reserve is dropping daily, yet government needs money to fight insurgency,' the NAGAFF Founder stated. He said NAGAFF pulling out of the strike is without prejudice to ongoing negotiations by all parties in the matter. When contacted, Media Consultant of APM Terminal, Bolaji Akinola, who is also Media Consultant of STOAN, said that all the issues have been settled as at Thursday, December 18th after a meeting with the freight forwarders. According to him, 'The matter has been resolved. Why are you trying to whip it up? Is it only APMT that operates in this industry? We have a cordial relationship, we had a meeting after the initial problem and we agreed amongst ourselves (both APNT and the agents), we have agreed amicably on the issues and we have moved past that stage.' Meanwhile, attempt by the terminal operators to resist the efforts of the Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC) to reduce   terminal charges including the controversial storage charge, have suffered a legal setback. The Council had directed shipping companies to reduce their shipping line agency charges from N26, 500 to N23, 850 per TEU and from N48, 000 to N40, and 000 per FEU and directed shipping agencies to refund container deposits to importers and agents within 10 working days after the return of the empty containers. But not satisfied with the directive of the NSC, terminal operators under the aegis of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN and Association of Shipping Lines Agency (ALSA) dragged the Council before the Federal High Court, challenging its powers to reduce their charges. But the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos Wednesday, 17th of December, 2014 ruled that the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN, and Association of Shipping Lines Agency (ALSA) should return to status quo over shipping and terminal storage charges. The trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, upheld the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers' Council (NSC) as port economic regulator and therefore dismissed a case filed by members of the ALSA against the NSC over a directive to the agencies to reduce their shipping line agency charges (SLAC) and refund container deposits within 10 days. It also ruled that STAON should revert to what they were charging before the increase in 2009. Vanguard