Monday, September 26, 2011

Confused Picture for Freight Shippers in Nigeria

African Port Strives to Shake Off the Old Problems
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA – Of all the countries in the world which stand as of major importance on the shipping map this must be the most confusing to anybody concerned with moving freight in or out of the region, and the Lagos port of Tin Can Island encapsulates all that is good and bad regarding global logistics, even the name itself somehow encapsulating the feel of Nigeria.

A relatively young development formed by the merger of the port with the older Roro facility, the port authorities have worked to clear the approach channels of wrecks to allow access to ever larger merchant ships, in July this year the gross tonnage of ocean vessels handled rose 13.4% to almost 11 million tonnes as against 2010 whilst coastal shipping was up 76% to over 800,000 tonnes.

In the past month we have seen the Finnish materials handling supplier Konecranes report an order for ten Rubber Tyred Gantry Cranes (RTG’s) from Ports and Cargo Handling Services Ltd. which are to be delivered next year. Ports and Cargo Handling Services, the port operations arm of Nigerian Sifax Group, is a major player in port operations and related services on the West African coast. The company has over 750 meters of quay deck with berths handling both containers and general cargo. As container traffic is increasing, the organization is increasing yard capacity by investing in Konecranes RTG’s.

Unfortunately the expansion in the area leads inevitably to other problems, just last week the Nigerian Customs Service seized a 40 foot container which they described as ‘loaded with explosives’, a frightening prospect considering the activities of pirates and robber gangs around the oil fields in the Niger Delta. As usual however this latest seizure at Tin Can’s Five Star terminal is no simple case, the Customs apparently refusing the local police access to the haul and some parties claiming the cargo, imported from China and described on the manifest as ‘Toys and rechargeable Lanterns’ were merely fireworks.

Last month a similar 40 foot box was opened at the Sifax facility to reveal two guns plus a quantity of goods suspected of being explosives. In the latest case the misdeclaration was said to have been made by a local customs agent. Another problem facing the authorities are the delays which local freight forwarders complain constantly about when they are trying to pay clearance charges. Imports that take less than an hour to process at other Nigerian ports can take a day at Tin Can Island and the agents blame a lack of qualified staff.

The root of this problem may well be the old African curse of corruption. Earlier this month fourteen Customs officials, including four inspectors, were suspended on suspicion of taking bribes to hurry the passage of import cargo through as authorities bid to leave the country’s turbulent political and economic history behind and finally drag the country into the modern world.