Chairman, Standing Committee on Trade and Transport, UASC, Hassan Bello

Worried by the increasing cases of imposition of various forms of illegal surcharges and introduction of new of nomenclatures by multinational shipping companies and their agents, the Union of African Shippers’ Councils UASC has evolved a mechanism to curtail the excesses of these liners.

UASC, made up of Shippers Councils from 16 countries in the West and Central African sub-region, held a three -day conference in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city where far reaching decisions were taken, which include resisting the rampant imposition of surcharges and levies on shipping service users in the sub-region.

Participants from the 16 countries in the West and Central African sub-region observed that African countries cannot afford to sit and watch while foreign ship owners and their agents continue to exploit shippers by imposing arbitrary, illegal surcharges and levies.

Part of action-plan towards achieving this objective is to take up the matter with these foreign shipping lines during a meeting of Global Shippers Forum GSF slated to hold in London soon.

The adoption of this strategy was sequel to a proposition by chairman of the Standing Committee on Trade and Transport of the union, Hassan Bello, who insisted while speaking at the event that shippers from the 16-member nation’s must present a common front and speak with one voice at the GSF event.

The stakeholders at the event had welcome suggestions by Bello s on the best approach towards checking the excesses of these shipping lines.

Bello, who doubles as the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers Council NSC, had while speaking on the issues of arbitrary increase in charges and introduction of new nomenclatures by multinational shipping firms said member states should insist that shippers, who are also critical stakeholders in the global supply chain must be consulted before the imposition of new charges.

While enjoining shippers councils in the sub-region to resort to legislations should the foreign liners continue to impose arbitrary charges on them without negotiation, he however said shippers must take time to study and ask questions on the components of such new charges and agree on their justification before payments..

He said: “Being part of the decision making before new charges are introduced was the best for all as the ship owners will be in a position to explain the reason for such charges. Shippers must be part of the decision making process on charges. Sometimes, if you are part of the decision making, it will even help the ship owners. There are things you may see and sypathise with them and agree.

“We can do a lot of things through legislations. If the foreign ship owners insist that that we cannot be part of the negotiation, we apply the legislation because there is no law that says we cannot negotiate with them.

“If we fail to negotiate, fight and reduce arbitrary charges not only on behalf of shippers but also for our national economies, then we should be dissolved. These charges are affecting our national economies. They cause inflation because all the charges are passed down to you and I as the final consumers. It means that the standard of living will reduce drastically because of the issue of affordability. If there is monopoly then we don’t have a choice. So we are doing this not only for the shippers but also for the service providers. I want Shippers Councils to be total, to look at the whole economy. We should work towards having the law so that we can do what we ought to do urgently”.

Bello, who is a lawyer, therefore called on the Councils to consider the negative effects of these surcharges on their individual national economies and fight against them. He also enjoined Secretaries General of UASC to examine the suggestions made by Ghana, Cameroon and supported by others for the constitution of experts to look at unfair trade practices in individual countries for presentation during the proposed GSF meeting in London.

He made a strong case for the union to reach out to similar oganisations in Latin America, Asia to learn from them what they have been able to do on issues of illegal charges.

While sharing his experience in Nigeria, he told the gathering that shipping service providers in the country including terminal operators and shipping lines had to drag the Nigerian Shippers Council to court on shipping charges, having challenged them and dropped same.

 “We were taken to court. We won at the High Court and at the Appeal Court but the service providers went to the Supreme Court where the case is now. They are telling us that we cannot determine what they charge and we said no, you cannot come to our country and say this is what you are going to charge us. It does not make sense. So, Shippers Councils must be bold”, he said.

While insisting that the shipping lines must be allowed to make profits, having invested huge capital and employed workers, he however insisted that it must not be to the detriment of the cargo owners and users of shipping services, who must be consulted before any increment in charges or introduction of new nomenclatures.