—Customs’ detainment of exited cargo causes disruption of seamless port operations
—-NIMASA’s refusal to participate in joint boarding of vessels elongates turn- around time of vessels
The operational misconduct of the Onne port command of the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA) came under the hammer of angry stakeholders Friday when they accused the two government agencies of deviant operational procedures which they said are harming seamless port operations at Onne Port.
The angry operators used the platform provided by the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko when he convened a stakeholders’ meeting during his two-day working visit and tour of port infrastructure at the Rivers ports.
At the Onne stakeholders’ meeting, it was Bello- Koko himself who fired the first salvo when he accused the Customs command at the port of causing needless delays in goods clearance by its incessant detainment of exited cargo at the gate.
After his appreciation of the assistance and support of the Customs command and other operators to the NPA to discharge its operational obligations, the NPA MD then drew the attention of what he called high cases of detainment of exited cargo by the Customs which he said negated the tenets of ease of doing business at the port and a mockery of international best practises.
‘However, I will like to also appeal to the Nigeria Customs command in Onne to help us reduce the increasing incidence of cases of detaining of containers that have already been cleared but are detained at the gate. This is not one of the requirements of the ease of doing business and this is not the international best practice.
“So we plead with the Customs to look into this incidence which doesn’t augur well for the rating of our ports.
However, the response of the representative of the Customs Area Controller of Onne port further aggravated the seething anger of the stakeholders who felt the action of the Customs are not in tandem with the international best practices.
The Customs has rationalised this incidence on the need to enforce compliance and ensure non-compliant trade goods do not leave the port.
”The gate is seamless but seamless gate is for compliant traders. We cannot allow non-compliant goods to pass through the gate.
”People who do not comply with cargo clearance guidelines and procedures and bring in what is not allowed cannot enjoy a seamless gate.”, the Onne Customs declared.
However, Bello-Koko could not understand why a container that was alsrady cleared and exited by a unit in the Customs will be stoped at the gate by another unit of the same Customs, a development he said showed lack of synergy among the units in the Customs.
“What we are asking for is a synergy among all the departments in Customs. These are containers that have already being cleared by a certain department in Customs but when they get to the gate, they are confisticated.
”What we are saying is that they should not even load the containers on the trucks if they have any issue with the Customs.
”I counted over 20 containers that are loaded onto the trucks because they have already been cleared only to be detained at the gate. They are blocking the road and creating nuisance.
”We would not encourage and allow any container carrying contraband to be cleared out of the port but what we are saying is the if one Customs unit has cleared it, it does not make sense for another unit to confiscate it.
”But I assure you that we shall sit with Customs and resolve this issue because we cannot allow this to continue”
He however advised the Customs authority to make use of their post clearance audit unit to deal with the issue of already exited containers but later found out to still have an infraction, rather than detaining them at the gate to cause obstruction at the port.
He lamented that this incidence is not restricted to Onne port alone but other Customs locations in the country.
Stakeholders said that detainning exited containers at the gate is an indictment on other units of Customs which have already released and exited the containers.
They hoped to resolve the issue internally at a meeting that will hold next week Tuesday.
Also, the stakeholders accused NIMASA of not participating in the Joint boarding of vessels with other relevant government agencies which they said was in contravection of the presidential order on ease of doing business aty the port.
However, the Head of Onne port NIMASA office rationised why the agency was not participating with other agencies on joint boarding of vessel.
He said that the duties of NIMASA are so technical that the agency cannot afford to go on a joint board of vessel for as short as 30 minutes.
He averred that NIMASA carries out far too more important functions that have international implications on the rating of Nigeria in international community such as maritime safety,marine environmental management and cabotage enforcement which he said has safety implications on the vessels and their crews.
He however disclosed that the agency is ready and willing to participate in the joint baording if the issue of inspection is on commercial activities which the shipping department of the agency will handle.
”NIMASA is the regulatory agency and we are bound by international conventions which we are signatory to and we have to ratify them. So the ease of doing business does not allign with these responsibilities
”The only area where NIMASA can come in is the area of commercial activities which is handled by our shipping department.
”We have told the last port manager that the Port State Control inspectors cannot just go on board of vessel and leave within one or 30 minutes, it is not possible.
”Because it has to do with the safety of the vessels and its crews.There are so many technical issues including marine environmental issues .These are very critical issues which will even affect our rating in the International Maritime Organisation.
”We make it clear to them that if they want us to be on board for that joint inspection, our shipping department which is on the commercial aspect of it is always available.
”But we cannot be on joint inspection on the issue of maritime safety,marine environmental management and cabotage enforcement, that cannot work”, the NIMASA representative declared.
However, the NPA MD would not want any of that.
He said that no agency will be allowed to go on inspection of a vessel different from when others are going.
He emphasised the need to comply with the presidential directive on ease of doing business and promised to escalate the matter to the NIMASA headquarters in Lagos.
He however mandated his lieutenants to find out if this issue of NIMASA intransigency is limited to Onne port alone or it exists in other ports locations.
”The joint boarding is what was agreed by the federal government , if there is a lacuna, we need to solve it upstairs.
”But we would not allow any agency to go on an inspection of vessel different from when others are going. But we shall speak with your headquarters (NIMASA) on this. We shall also find out if we have the same problems with NIMASA at other ports locations or is it only at Onne port.
”We need to do that immediately and by next week Tuesday, I need you to come back to me with your findings so we can start writing letters.
”But we can’t allow this. This is the reason why everybody complains. The international conventions, whatever it is, we need to find a way to put everything together to ensure that you carry out your functions without fail because you also have obligations , first of all to the nation and then to the international convections.
”Also the ease of doing business, what it does is that it allows everybody to carry out its functions within a time frame together. All the agencies are supposed to carry out whatever functions they have together at the same time with other agencies in the joint boarding.
”We all do it at once and we all come out at once. That is what the Presidential initiative on the ease of doing business said. We need to work together to make this place work and attract investments to the Nigerian ports”, Bello-Koko declared.
He however expressed the authority’s appreciation to all the stakeholders and other sister agencies of government for their support which he said have make Onne port a beautiful bride for shippers.
”We are delighted at the export potentials of Onne ports and its growing fortunes which could not have happened without the cooperation of the stakeholders. Onne port is the future given its boundless potentials, if they are properly harnessed.
”Let me, therefore, seize this opportunity to appreciate the partnership we have enjoyed from you as stakeholders and therefore called for a renewed synergy which is very critical for the optimization of operations of this port.
”I like to especially appreciate the Nigerian Customs Service in Onne for contributing and donating nine 40-footer containers given to the authority for use as security posts at the port and I can assure you of the judicious utilization of this gesture.
”I will also like to appreciate Brawal Shipping for the timely support they provide the authority by the deployment of mobile cranes and trucks in the discharge of our newly acquired marine crafts and the vital construction of palliative walls along the port access road.
”I will also like to thank the West African Container Terminal (WACT), Intels, Deep Off Shores and others who have in one way or the other assisted the authority in providing solutions to problems that have arisen.
”I want to thank the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Police, the DSS and other government agencies who have worked with us when we have security and other challenges at the port”
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The Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo expressed gratitude to the IMO Secretary-General for making out time to visit Nigeria and also having a first-hand opinion on the developmental strides in Nigeria’s maritime sector.
Also speaking at the event, the Chairman, House Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, Hon. Lynda Ikpeazu commended the Dr. Bashir Jamoh-led Management of NIMASA.
The NIMASA Director General, Dr. Bashir Jamoh again thanked the IMO Secretary-General for his visit to Nigeria
Jamoh further intimated him that NIMASA has embarked on various projects in the year, 2022, all with the aim of ensuring a robust and conducive maritime environment is attained in Nigeria.
In July 2021, the Federal Executive Council approved N17.4 billion to purchase the new highrise building that is located on Victoria Island.
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