Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman

Francis Ezem

The Nigerian Ports Authority NPA has said that its enquiries from the National Centre for Disease Control NCDC over the details of the persons, vessels and terminals on which the six new cases of the pandemic COVID-19 virus was detected was not meant to contradict the information released to the public rather for proper documentation and record keeping.

In another development, the authority has announced the suspension of payment of all applicable terminal storage fees on consignments, called demurrage fees, which are charged on imported consignments for an initial period of 21 days effective March 23, 2020. This is in reaction to the sit at home directive issued by the Federal Government to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Recall that the NCDC had yesterday announced that a total of 14 new cases of COVID-19 had been detected across the country, out of which six were said to be personnel on board a vessel at the Lagos, a development that prompted the NPA to send a tweet to the NCDC, requesting the details of the new cases, which was misconstrued.

The tweet reads in part: “Hello @NCDC. In respect to the 6 new cases that “were detected on a vessel” in Lagos, the Authority in collaboration with Port Health has not recorded any confirmed cases to date. To enable verification and proper record keeping, kindly avail us with specific details on the name of the Vessel the passengers were on board, and the terminal or Jetty where they berthed.”

It would also be recalled that following this tweet, the NCDC released the details of the six new cases, which indicate that they were discovered on an oil rig, Siem Marlin on the High Sea, offshore Lagos and were able to access it in conjunction with the Lagos State Government using a helicopter.

In a statement issued in Lagos, Friday by the General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communication, Jatto Adams, the authority insists that its tweet of Thursday March 26, did not in any way contradict the information released to the public by the NCDC rather it was meant to enable it get full details of incident for purposes of record and better management in the future.

According to him, the NPA needed the clarification to reassure its stakeholders who raised concern over the announcement that six cases were found on a vessel when they as shipping companies, terminal operators and jetty operators did not witness any such passengers through their respective COVID-19 protocol.

“The NPA and Ports Health Services have set clear protocols on the identification of sick people on vessels and the management of suspected and confirmed cases in line with best practices set by the International Maritime Organisation IMO”, Adams also said.

It was gathered that some of these protocols include that the captain of any vessel with a sick person(s) on board must fly two yellow flags, after which personnel of the Port Health Services will board the vessel at berth, inspect it and in cases where there is a sick person on board, they will quarantine the ship and immediately report to the Lagos State Ministry of Health.

It was further gathered that the Ministry of Health will in turn send an epidemiologist who will also go on board the vessel with Port Health officials, take samples from the suspected sick person and then report to the NCDC.

The NPA- image makers insists that this clarification provided by the NCDC has renewed the confidence of stakeholders in the effectiveness of the processes put in place, which remains the principal objective of the authority.

“Given the fact that the maritime industry is central to the management of the pandemic worldwide, the Nigerian Ports Authority is committed to working with all other agencies of government to ensure the safety of all Nigerians”, he also stated.

Meanwhile the authority says that its decision to suspend demurrage payment was in recognition of the pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic imposes on businesses, the responsibility imposed on the authority to relief this burden on its customers as well as attaining the objective of the Federal Government’s Ease of Doing Business Policy at this trying period.

NPA in a separate statement says: “We recognise the financial implications of these policies on the terminal operators and will consider a shift in our operational charges to ameliorate the situation of stakeholders.

“We thank all stakeholders for their cooperation”.