Worried by the worsening gridlocks on seaport access and adjoining roads and street, the Shippers’ Association Lagos State has proposed stringent punitive measures including a $1,000 fine per empty container per day on Maerskline, Cosco and other multinational shipping lines over their deliberate policy of storing their empty containers on Nigerian roads.

Recall that the Nigerian Ports Authority had recently slammed a ten-day suspension of the services of four multinational shipping companies comprising Maerskline, Cosco Shipping, APS and Lansal over their failure to provide holding bays as agreed by stakeholders November last year, which it later lifted.

President of the Association, Rev. Jonathan Nicol, who spoke in an exclusive interview in Lagos, observed that even if the government tarred all the roads leading to the seaports, the gridlock would persist due to the deliberate policy of these shipping companies to leave their empty containers in Nigeria, which is cheaper and more convenient for them.

Describing it as an imperialist policy, he noted that because of the seeming lack of strong regulation in Nigeria, these shipping companies in connivance with terminal operators deliberately leave their empty containers in Nigeria because it is cheaper for them to do so, a development that is worsened by the failure to provide holding bays.

“There is more to the gridlocks than meets the eye, even if you construct and remodel all the roads in Apapa, the gridlock would persist because the shipping companies are not evacuating their empty containers because it costs them nothing to leave them in Nigeria, which they cannot do in any other part of the world where they do shipping business.

“Until the Federal Government through the NPA and other regulatory agencies introduce stiff sanctions not limited to the imposition of $1,000 per container per day to discourage them from leaving their containers here, they will continue to take undue advantage of the obvious lapses in the system in this country by subverting the systems and laws of the land.

According to him, it is a generally accepted global rule in shipping in line with international best practice that when a ship brings cargo laden-containers, she takes the same number of empty containers to allow for free movement of goods, which the shipping firms operating in Nigeria have continued to subvert and have been going scot-free.

He also disclosed that the practice of causing artificial gridlock in the country by these shipping lines and some terminal operaors is a deliberate ploy to ensure that Nigerian shippers (importers and exporters) forfeit their container deposits, arguing that with the volume of traffic all over the places, it is impossible to deliver the container on schedule to qualify for the refund of the container deposits, which are forfeited to these multinational shipping firms.

Rev. Nicol also observed that the case of desperation on the part of shipping companies and terminal operators cannot be ruled out completely since the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Nigerian Shippers Council directing them to refund over N450billion illegally and arbitrarily collected from Nigerian importers and exporters over time, which is currently at the Supreme Court.

He argued that the shipping companies and some terminal operators are desperate to make as much money as possible from Nigerians, as they are afraid of what might happen should the apex court upholds the judgment of the appellate court.

The shippers- boss however admitted that there are serious flaws in the country’s port concession agreement, which he also said was responsible for some of these challenges in the post concession era, insisting that the best was to go is to begin a holistic review of the agreement in which all stakeholders would be carried along to address some of these flaws.

He regretted that in all these, the port service users have been on the receiving end, citing an instance when he had to pay N500, 000 to transport a container from Apapa to Ikeja, which used to be N80, 000, arguing that such was not good for the nation’s economy, as the additional cost would be passed to the consumers of the cargo.

Managing Director of NPA Hadiza Bala Usman had while aproving the suspension of the four shipping lines said it was sequel to the discovery by the authority that the affected service providers have failed to comply with the directive to acquire and operate holding bays. According to her, these four culprits have either failed to utilise their existing holding bays or do not have adequate capacity at all to handle the volume of containers at their disposal.

“Some of these companies have also been found to import a larger number of containers than empty containers exported thereby making the country a dumping ground for empties. These conducts have contributed to the persistent congestion around the Lagos Port Complex LPC and the Tin Can Island Port TCIP, which is now spreading to other parts of the Lagos metropolis where truck drivers with no immediate business at the ports now park their trucks on the express roads”, the MD had said.