Tanker vessels on the high sea
By Francis Ugwoke
As the fuel scarcity bites harder nationwide, there are no fewer than 44 fuel-laden vessels that have either arrived or expected at the Lagos seaports with various petroleum products, including petrol.
Of this number, no fewer than 23 vessels are currently awaiting permission to berth and clearance from the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) at the Lagos ports.
THISDAY checks revealed that apart from the 23 vessels awaiting customs clearance, there are 21 other tanker vessels expected at the ports with various petroleum products between March 5 and 12.
There are also another 15 vessels with general cargoes that have been cleared to berth but cannot do so because of lack of berthing space.
The shipping position released by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) showed that one of the tanker vessels, MT Saphina, which arrived with 1,700 metric tonnes of diesel has been awaiting customs clearance and berthing since February 12.
Three other vessels, MT Georgia, Sea Grace, Dubai Star, which also arrived the country over two weeks ago with ship loads of aviation fuel, diesel and petrol respectively are also awaiting customs clearance and berthing permission.
Other vessels with various types of petroleum products, including kerosene, diesel and aviation fuel have been awaiting customs and berthing clearance between February 27 and March 6 when they arrived the Lagos terminals.
A breakdown of all the products currently at the ports, including those berthing and awaiting customs clearance, showed that 15 vessels are laden with diesel; six with aviation fuel; two vessels with base oil; 10 vessels carrying kerosene; and 10 with petrol.
On why 23 of the tanker vessels were placed on the awaiting clearance list of the NCS, a top official of the Customs Service, who pleaded anonymity, blamed the delays on documentation problems.
The official accused some of the agents of the petroleum product importers of not filing in their documents adequately, including the electronic manifest in good time to enable customs take action on the vessels.
The official informed this newspaper, “The law provides that the manifest must be submitted 48 hours before the arrival of the vessel, but many of them do not do this until the vessels are berthed or sitting at the high sea.”
He explained that officials of the NCS are required to board such vessels for necessary checks before giving clearance to the vessels to berth and discharge their cargo.
Another source explained that the delay in berthing and discharging some of the vessels, particularly those with dry cargo, may have been as a result of lack of necessary equipment at the terminals.
Shipping experts had blamed freight rates charged on vessels coming to do business in Nigeria as being very high and had lengthened the amount of time vessels spend before their cargoes are discharged at the ports.
The experts said that these vessels build in two to three extra weeks as charges to cover the time they waste on arriving the country.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation last week had accused officials of NCS and the Nigerian Navy for being responsible for the current fuel scarcity in the country.
NNPC claimed that many product-laden vessels, which ought to have been discharged, were detained at the Apapa Port for three weeks by the customs and navy, a development which according to the corporation had led to hitches in the product supply chain.
Group General Manager, Public Affairs of the Corporation, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, said that the vessels were detained at the berthing points, in what has deprived other vessels with petroleum products from berthing and discharging their wet cargo.
He disclosed that this was happening at a time NNPC's strategic reserve is depleting.
However, both Customs and Navy debunked the allegation. The customs Public Relations Officer, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, told THISDAY last week that the NCS had only arrested a vessel known as MT Crete for operating illegally in the country's territorial waters.
He explained that the arrested vessel had not been registered to operate in the country and may not have paid customs dues and taxes.
Similarly, the navy's Director of Information, Commodore Kabiru, had also made it clear that the navy never had a hand in the detention of any tanker vessel.
He said, “It is not true at all. All the applications from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to the navy were treated expediently and with speed. At least I am in touch with the Director NN Marine Services and so I have my facts and proof to back up what I say.”