African Shippers Set to Tackle Foreign Ship-owners over Surcharges

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Eromosele Abiodun

Members of the Union of African Shippers’ Councils (UASC) have adopted stern measures to fight against surcharges imposed on shippers by foreign ship-owners and their agents.

Rising from a meeting attended by 16 of the West and Central African states in Abuja, participants said African countries could not afford to fold their hands while foreign ship-owners continued to rip off shippers through arbitrary charges.
The union, therefore reached a consensus among members to take the matter up with foreign ship-owners who will be attending a meeting of Global Shippers Forum (GSF) coming up soon in London.

Participants at the meeting also welcomed suggestions by the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello on how best to check the excesses of the ship-owners and their agents.

Bello, who was the Chairman of the Standing Committee 1 on Trade and Transport while speaking on the arbitrary increase in charges and introduction of new nomenclatures by shipping lines said member states should insist that shippers must be consulted before new charges were imposed on them.

Bello, also said shippers must take time to study and ask questions on the components of the charges being presented to them and agree on their justification before payment is made.

He enjoined shippers’ councils in the sub-region to resort to legislation if the foreign ship owners continue to impose such charges without negotiation.

He explained that 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.

He said: “Shippers must be part of the decision making on charges. Sometimes, if you are part of the decision making, it will even help the operators. There are things you may see and sympathise with them and agree. We can do a lot of things through legislation.

“If the European ship-owners remain on their feet that we cannot be part of the negotiation, we use legislation. But there is no law that can say we cannot talk to them.”

Bello, called on the councils to consider the negative effect of the surcharges on their individual national economies and fight against the arbitrary charges.

He said: “If we cannot negotiate charges, if we cannot reduce charges, if we cannot fight arbitrary charges not only on behalf of shippers but for our national economies, then we should be dissolved. These charges are affecting our national economies.
“It affects inflation because all the charges are passed to me and you 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 choice.

“So, we are doing this not only for the shippers but also for the 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.”

He, called on the secretary general of UASC to examine the suggestion 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 GSF meeting in London.

He also called on 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.

Bello also said with the economic powers that shippers’ councils have with cargos, there was the need to seek more political power.

“We have to have economic and political power on the freight charges. The economic power we have already gotten, that means we have the cargo. For strong political will, we should have affiliations with international bodies. We should have observers’ status at IMO,” he explained.

He pointed out that it was important to remind the various governments in the sub-region of their responsibilities on provision of infrastructures as this will impact positively on trade facilitation.

He explained that the councils were not out to deny ship-owners or their agents of profits, but want regulations to be obeyed.