Covid-19: Shippers’ Council seeks exemption of cargo from inter-state restrictions

From Anthony Nwachukwu, Lagos

For unhindered movement to their destinations, especially of essential commodities and raw materials, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) has called for cargoes to be exempted from inter-state restriction on movements, even as the seaports remain operational for cargo clearance.

The NSC Executive Secretary, Hassan Bello, made the call in Lagos during his on-the-spot assessment of the Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports following President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive that all seaports in Lagos remain operational in accordance with the guidelines issued earlier.

Bello also urged clearing agents and importers to use the period of the lockdown to clear their cargoes from the ports and decongest the terminals, adding that the agency has provided buses for port workers to enable them access the ports.

“I’m always scared about the congestion that will happen on both sides if cargo is not taken out of the ports,” he said. “We have terminals with 95 per cent occupancy rate. We are doing the same thing at Port Harcourt, where people are not allowed to convey their goods from the port.

“We are talking to the authorities to ensure that cargoes are allowed to move freely. Cargo should not be subject to inter-state restrictions; it should reach its destination.”

In spite of the constraints due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bello said the NSC was working to ensure sustained operations at the ports as the nerve of the nation’s economy, to enable citizens fight the spread of the deadly virus.

“We need certain essential commodities and medical equipment to move. We have sent circulars to see that port operations are kept on despite the difficulties. The government has to find a balance between the safety of the people and the economy. Ports also generate revenue, which is needed now,” he explained.

For smooth operations, however, Bello said that the agency, aware of the present global constraints, including to international shipping and logistics, was “talking with the commercial banks.

“Some of them have immediately opened two branches in Apapa (Zenith Bank) and will start tomorrow for the business of assessment and payment of duties. We are talking with other banks and they will do the same.”

Meanwhile, the Vice Chairman of ENL Consortium, Princess Vicky Haastrup, lamented during the visit to the ENL Terminal at the Apapa Port that the terminal was almost full, with 85 per cent yard space already occupied by consignments.

According to her, five vessels are presently waiting at berth, ready to discharge contents, but “the freight forwarders are not coming because some of them have customs problems. We are ready to operate but the people are not coming.”

However, the Managing Director of Ports and Terminal Multiservices Limited (PTML), Ascanio Russo, said the company has been operating, adding: “I’m very glad that the Federal Government is a critical stakeholder, which needs to be open all the time, especially in a difficult time like this.

“Everywhere in the world, even in the most affected countries, ports and critical logistics services were never closed. I’m also very happy with the council’s role in facilitating access to the ports, and for the banks to come on to facilitate payment of duties. These are very critical steps because on our side, we are ready to work.”

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