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Seaport operations flounder in Apapa traffic

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Container stacking area at the port.

• Terminal operators groan, count losses • Demurrage soars on trapped cargoes
As struggle to sanitise the ports continues, leaving activities of importation and exportation of goods in the doldrums. The terminal operators are counting their losses, while the importers groan under high demurrage accumulated as a result of trapped cargoes.

The traffic gridlock, which brought the entire Lagos metropolis to stand still last week, forced stakeholders to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare emergency in Apapa area, to save thousands of businesses and infrastructure from total collapse.

The chaotic traffic situations arose even as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) suspended four shipping companies for failure to provide holding bays for empty containers, although the suspension has been reviewed.

Meanwhile, allegations against the Nigerian Navy over abuse of the call up system recently introduced by NPA have also brought brouhaha to the ports area.

It has been a terrible situation for all motorists trying to access Apapa Ports, Surulere, Ijora, Mile 2, Ajegunle, and Isolo areas, as truck drivers blocked the major highways making it nearly impossible for motorists to move freely around Lagos. Also, companies around Ojuelegba, Stadium, Brewery, Eric More, Ijora and Surulere are currently facing, hard time due to the unbearable traffic gridlock caused by at least 2,700 petroleum tankers and container trucks parked on the major roads.

This is just as Terminal Operators in the two major seaports in Lagos are counting their losses, as operations have dwindled to the lowest ebb. Congestion has built up at the terminals; while importers are worried about the increasing demurrage accrued on trapped cargoes due to inaccessibility to the ports.

Spokesperson for the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Bolaji Akinola, told The Guardian yesterday that the terminal operators are finding it difficult to survive under the terrible environment.

According to him, many of them are currently doing far below the Guarantee Minimum Tonnage (GMT), which is the benchmark used to pay dues to the Federal Government monthly, while operating expenses have also increased.

His worlds: “The ports are practically grounded now. It has been brought to a stand still. Cargoes are no longer going out of the ports and operators are paying huge price for this situation. Our workers find it very difficult to come to work everyday because of the comatose state of the roads. Going home is a problem for everyone of us. Cargoes are not going out. We make money from cargo throughputs but for over a month now, cargoes are trapped inside the terminals at both the Tincan Port and Apapa Port.

“We are not making money and we have financial responsibilities and commitment to the Federal Government of Nigeria, as we have to pay base on the GMT. Now we have found ourselves in a situation where cargoes are not going out, throughput has dropped, Terminal Operators’ revenues have dropped drastically, yet we must pay the government monthly, and we are incurring costs everyday,” he said.

Akinola urged the presidency to intervene in the situation through some temporary measure that could bring relief to the operators, and ensure a solid plan for permanent solution.

However, in addition to the poor road conditions and lack of truck holding bays, the nefarious activities of some security officials, especially those of the Nigerian Navy, NPA and the Police drafted to control traffic on major roads in Apapa, are said to be responsible for the resurgence of gridlock in the area.

Truck drivers alleged that only those that were able to part with a minimum of N10,000 per truck are allowed access into the port by the security operatives while others are detained on the already choked road.

The stretch of traffic extended from the Tin Can Island Port end to Cele Bus Stop with all the lanes on the ever-busy Apapa-Oshodi expressway blocked by trucks and tankers.

The Ijora Wharf end did not fare any better as trucks and tankers occupied a major chunk of the road with the queue stretching to as far as Obanikoro on Ikorodu road.

President, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Odugbemi, said it is very unfortunate that the roads remain in such a sorry state with the government showing little concerns.

“Most of the policies are in shambles, nothing is working, Apapa is now a no go area and we expect that the government should wake up to its responsibilities and fix the roads” he said.

Several road users, who expressed frustration at the gridlock, also blamed the traffic control officials for allowing the situation degenerate to the present level.

NPA had at the weekend announced a 10-day suspension of Maersk Line, Cosco Shipping, APS and Lansal for failing to provide holding bays, in which case they have had to dump empty containers on the road. This was aimed at compelling the shipping companies to provide holding bays instead of resorting to dumping of empty containers on the roads.

Assistant General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, NPA, Isah Suwaid, had earlier said in a statement announcing the sanction of four shipping firms that: “The current situation results from the reported failure of some of the shipping companies and terminal operators to comply with the agreement on the usage of holding bays reached in November, 2017.

“We have consequently launched an investigation into the level of compliance or non-compliance to agreements reached between the Authority, Shipping Companies and Terminal Operators on the immediate use of holding bays for trucks and containers until such trucks were called into the ports through the call- up system adopted in November 2017.

“As the Authority also investigates allegations of extortion by officials of the Nigerian Navy, The Nigeria Police Force and NPA security personnel by the truck drivers with assurances that culprits will be made to face the laws of the country, we appeal to stakeholders to give chance for a peaceful resolution of the issues at stake,” he stated.

An importer, Ben Obazie told The Guardian that the situation is becoming embarrassing, urging the government to take swift action in resolving the problems of ports access road.

According to Obazie thousands of containers are now lying fallow at the ports waiting for evacuation, but the poor state of the roads makes that impossible, even as importers incur higher cost on transportation.

Besides, he noted that demurrage as accumulated on those consignments, making people to pay more and then bear the burden of incompetency of government.


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