Importers Kick against Surcharge on Cargoes by Shipping Firms

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· Charges economic sabotage, insensitive, says shippers’ council

Ejiofor Alike

Importers are currently groaning under a huge surcharge imposed on them by international shipping firms on cargoes coming into the country.

The surcharge, they stated, is adding to the high cost of doing business in Nigerian ports, especially given the challenges of infrastructure deficiency and cumbersome shipping process at the nation’s gateway.

For over nine months, a shipping firm- Hapag-Lloyd was said to have imposed a revised Peak Season Surcharge (PSS) on Tin Can Island and Apapa ports in Lagos.

It was gathered that Hapag-Lloyd imposed the PSS on all container types heading for Tin Can Island and Apapa ports.

Investigation revealed that about $1,025 surcharge is slammed on 20 feet (ft) and 40ft containers on cargoes coming from United States and US territories, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Charges from cargoes from the rest of the world are also pegged at $1,025 or EUR 930.

The charges are said to be different from the ocean tariff rates as well as bunker-related surcharges, security-related surcharges, terminal handling charges, among others, that shore up the cost of shipping in Nigeria.

Having commenced the charges from December 15, 2019, Hapag-Lloyd, according to its notice, is imposing the surcharge till further notice.

It was gathered that critical industries in Nigeria are already groaning under the new charges, lamenting that the high prices will affect profits, which have already taken a blow from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chairman of Shippers Association Lagos State, Mr. Jonathan Nichol, bemoaned the shipping costs, expressing the group’s readiness to take it up with appropriate agencies.

Nichol said the surcharge could be linked to congestion at Lagos ports, adding, however, that it is uncalled for, considering the negative effect of COVID-19.

“We will certainly induce discussions on this with the Shippers Council,” he said.

He stressed the need to review the costs of shipping in Nigeria, noting that “importers hardly make a profit” due to excessive charges.

Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Shippers Council, Mr. Hassan Bello, described the charges as economic sabotage, saying the council is moving against the action of the shipping firm.

Bello said: “We are protesting against it vehemently. There was no notice to us and the shippers that the charge was imminent. From our intelligence, these charges are over $1,000. It is discriminatory. It is insensitive. Just when the Nigerian economy is recovering a little bit from the effect of COVID-19, it is insensitive for anybody to slam such charges of over $1,000 on Nigeria’s trade.

“It is discriminatory because it is not happening in Togo, Benin or Ghana, why should it be in Nigeria? We have written a strong letter to the shipping association of Nigeria and we also wrote to their principals overseas, because this is not a local charge.

“Why should Nigeria be the recovery ground for shipping companies? We have three lines of action on the internal level; we are going to call on the Union of Africa’s Shippers’ Council; Global Shippers’ Association and Global Shippers Forum.

“On the national level, we are rallying around the organised private sector. I am already in talks with Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). I will talk to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria as well as big-time shippers like Dangote and Nigerian Breweries, among others.

“We should all come together and fight against this unnecessary charges. The charges are unilateral and arbitral and we are going to protest it because it is economic sabotage. It goes deep into Nigeria’s economic recovery. It is against our resolve to recover from the effect of COVID-19.”

President of Importers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Kingsley Chikezie, said the importers were not happy about the additional charges. According to him, at a time, they were complaining about the high cost of shipping at the ports.

Chikezie said many untoward practices were happening at the ports, including the issue of transfer charges among others and appealed to the authorities to ensure an urgent review of the charges.

However, some industrialists who were severely affected by the surcharge burden have urged the federal government to institute litigation against the erring shipping firm for operating against the rule of trade facilitation agenda of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) during the pandemic period.

The Managing Director of WellWaters Resources, Mr. Ogunlade Olabisi, called on the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to intervene on the issue.

“I think there is a need for the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection to take up legal action against the shipping firm. After all, it is their responsibility to protect consumers in the country,” he said.

A source in a major manufacturing firm, who preferred anonymity, described the agenda of the shipping firm as self-serving and profiteering, which is in contradiction of the trade facilitation rule.

Before now, CMA CGM and Maersk Shipping had earlier slammed a surcharge on Nigerian bound cargoes.

Notwithstanding the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, German container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd closed the first six months of this year with a profit. The group profit stood at $314 million in H1 2020, compared to $165 million seen in the corresponding period a year earlier.