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Port congestion worsens as customs halts barge operations

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A vessel at berth

• Waiting time at Lagos ports exceeds one month
• Clearing agents to protest against policy

There are indications that vessel congestions will worsen at the Lagos seaports, as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) placed ban on the usage of barges to convey containers in and out of the ports.

The adoption barges as evacuation model was earlier introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in order to reduce congestion at the ports.

Since the introduction barges for the evacuation of cargoes, there has been temporary relief on the port access roads and reduction in the number of days spent by stranded vessels at the anchorage.

Already, shipping firms are worried that the waiting period in Lagos anchorage now exceeds one month.

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Hapag-Lloyd, in its advisory note sighted by The Guardian, noted that
Vessels calling at Lagos ports have continued to suffer extraordinary delays as waiting times at APM Terminals’ Apapa and Bollore Ports’ Tincan Island Container Terminal (TICT) continue to exceed 30 and 20 days, respectively.

The German shipping carrier has therefore announced the addition of two ships to its MWX service in order to reduce the negative effects.

“Now, Hapag-Lloyd is deploying a total of seven container vessels to the region,” it stated.

The Hamburg-based company said that it regularly evaluates the Apapa call on its MIAX service. In case of omission, cargo is discharged at TICT from where cargo is barged to KCT and customs clearance of Apapa cargo is handled there.

This situation may worsen in days to come, as the NCS in a circular signed by the Deputy Comptroller General, Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation, DCG A. Chidi, alleged that some importers and agents were taking advantage of barge evacuation to divert containers to illegal warehouses.

The circular with number NCF/ENF/ABJ/058/S.23 dated 12th of March 2020 has been transmitted to all area commands, all heads of unit, sector drill commanders, federal operations units and the CGC strike force for immediate action.

The circular reads in part: “The CGC is in receipt of intelligence that the use of barges to evacuate containers in and out of our ports is being abused to the extent that containers are being diverted to illegal warehouses.

“Consequently, I am directed to inform you that the use of barges to evacuate containers should stop with immediate effect.”

However, industry operators have bemoaned the decision by the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali to suspend barge operations, noting that such policy would escalate the lingering congestion challenges in Lagos ports.

The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) described the ban as “a trade frustrating and wicked policy”.

ANLCA, in a statement signed by its President, Tony Nwabunike called on the Customs boss to address the matter through consultation and dialogue with stakeholders rather than a blanket ban.

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Nwabunike said the directive banning the use of barges to evacuate containers will impede efforts of other government agencies like the NPA and the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) in find lasting solution to the easy movement of goods through the waterways and to save the roads which are already in deplorable condition.

“More surprising is the fact that the Customs CG preaching trade facilitation and ease of doing business, should not be the one taking hasty decisions that will not only aggravate the current suffering of stakeholders, but also impede on efforts of other government agencies like the NPA, NIWA etc in finding a lasting solution to easy movement of goods through the waterways and to save our roads which are already in terrible deplorable state.

“We in the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) are strongly opposed to this position and call on the Customs boss to address the matter through consultations and dialogue with all stakeholders in the industry,” he stated.

“On our part, a high powered team from ANLCA will visit the Zonal Coordinator of Zone, ‘A’ of the NCS to register our protest and displeasure on this wicked policy. Also, the ANLCA leadership will dispatch a letter to the Customs CG to seek the reversal of this trade frustrating policy.

“We want to also assure the Customs leadership that ANLCA as a group of Customs Brokers will do everything possible to see to friendly trade policies that will attract investors to our ports,” he stated.

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