Ports: Importers, Freight Forwarders Bemoan Delay in Scanning Process

24 Feb 2013

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Transport Minister, Idris Umar

Importers and freight forwarders in Lagos ports are lamenting rising economic losses due to demurrage on their consignments as a result of the delay in scanning their goods by Destination Inspection Agents (DIAs). They are calling for physical examination of the  items  to fast-track goods delivery at the ports, as against the argument that it is prone to insider abuse and security risk, reports Francis Ugwoke

About 55 days  after the Destination Inspection Agents (DIAs)  got  their contract  extended by six months,  importers and their freight forwarders are lobbyling relevant  authorities, particularly the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to allow their containers undergo physical examination as against the  current risk management system  in which scanning is involved. This is however because of  delays being experienced in the scanning process. The delay  in the scanning process usually results to huge losses for importers as a result of demurrage paid to terminal operators and shipping companies. Under the risk management profile, containers  that  will go through green lane do not require scanning. However containers  under  yellow lane  will  have to be scanned, while those on red lane are to be examined physically. THISDAY checks at the ports  and border stations revealed  that because of the delay in the scanning  process, importers and freight  forwarders whose containers are billed for scanning now want to ‘re-route’  them to red lane so that they can go through  physical examination. This is to make goods delivery faster and to cut all the losses being  accumulated  as a result of demurrage. 

Our Nightmare, by freight forwarders
Freight Forwarders who spoke to THISDAY  at the Lagos ports on their experience said that  those who have bulk containers of between 150 to 200 containers  have been  going through  so much difficulties to have them scanned  at the Lagos ports. At Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, it was gathered that the  scanners  cannot carry the work load as hundreds of containers are scanned on daily basis. Freight  forwarders say that between  500  and 600 containers are presented  for scanning  each day, adding that the DIAs  carrying out  these services can only scan about 100 on daily basis, a situation which according to  them  has led to demurrage. They also  said that  there is growing  congestion at the ports as a result of the number of  containers lying up for scanning.  It was also gathered that  many  containers after undergoing scanning also  go through physical examination based on suspicion on such containers.

Call for Re-routing of Containers
Worried about the delay  in the scanning  of the containers, importers and their freight forwarders are calling for re-routing of the containers meant for scanning for  physical examination.  According to  freight forwarders,  this will  make the delivery of cargo faster and save importers the problem of paying demurrage on the containers. 
A  freight forwarder, Chief Dom Ojekere  who spoke to THISDAY at  Apapa  port said that  the Customs should allow  monitored re-routing of containers  for physical examination.  Waiting for scanning process, he said, has remained a huge loss of time  and economic waste. 

He called on the Customs management to save the importers of the money paid on demurrage and the ports from growing congestion by allowing voluntary physical examination at the ports.

Defence  by  DIAs
Among the companies that  provide scanning services at the ports and border stations are SGS, Global Scan and Cotecna. A  top official of  Cotecna who did not want to be quoted denied that the  company does not have the capacity for the  number of containers being presented on daily basis for scanning.  He told THISDAY “there is no delay in scanning containers at  the port. I don’t think so. From our records  the least we have done in a day is 190 containers. From our record, we scan between 200 to 238 containers on daily basis”, he said.

Dangers  of Re-routing, by  DIAs
In the  DIAs circle,  there is a lot of negative implication of re-routing containers meant for scanning for physical examination.  A top official  who  also pleaded anonymity said that  it can be manipulated by  Customs officers on the influence of unscrupulous importers and agents. Besides, he argued that this is  against the objectives of introducing the scanning policy  in the first place.  He said that goods which go through physical examination are by nature  not  thoroughly examined. He  argued that in most cases,  what the examination officers do is to drop few items on the ground and  depend on the findings on these items, believing that the rest of the items  in the containers  are  okay. 

He explained that the reason  for  scanning is that the scanners are able to pick  prohibited items, particularly security risk items. Speaking on the same issue,  a customs agent, Mr Tony  Okere said  that the issue of abuse can be  handled by the Customs. Okere said that this remains a problem for the Customs  to address, adding that it is part of the corruption in the system. He revealed that  in some border stations,  including Idiroko, Seme and Jibiya and    off- dock terminals,  effective use of hydro fixed scanners is  not observed.

What Customs  Officers Say
When contacted,  a senior customs officer in Apapa  said that  the command has observed the problems being faced by importers, it cannot change the  system  as it  is a Federal Government policy  for  some  containers to be scanned under the risk management  profile.  He  identified the problem  of  lack of enough scanning equipment  as an issue that the  DIAs have to  address.  “Our hands are tied… we want the DIAs to  do their job and do it well… we shall co-operate with them to avoid mis-interpretation by  stakeholders…. They lack enough equipment,… but it is not for us to say so…”, he told THISDAY under anonymity.  The official who said that the policy of re-routing was  not a bad idea, however, maintained that  such directive can only come from the Comptroller-General of Customs.

How to Address  Shortage of Scanners, by  Stakeholders
Stakeholders in the ports industry told THISDAY that the only way to address the problem of shortage of  scanners and save  importers the delay is to throw  the provision of scanners to  more private  operators under a joint venture  arrangement.  A  transport consultant and  freight forwarder, Chief Leo Ogamba  said that as far as he is concerned the scanning  system is being sabotaged by those who should encourage it. He said  that  those who do this, including some officers of the Customs prefer physical examination for obvious reasons.

He  added that physical  examination is referred because scanning is expensive  as a result of delay  and  demurrage involved.  Ogamba also pointed out that one other factor responsible for the  delay in the scanning process is that there is lack of sufficient space in the  ports for scanning.  He  said that  this problem can be addressed by scanning the  containers  as they are being offloaded from the  ship and the  record is kept. He said that  with this, containers  that have discrepancies  can  be referred to physical examination  and  not queue for  scanning.  “if this is done, there will be desired  result, but this will not be allowed because of corruption”, he said.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Scanning Process

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