Importers and agents plying their trade at the Port Terminal Operators Limited (PTOL), Port Harcourt Port, Rivers State, are resisting the recently introduced astronomical handling charges by the management of the company.
The company has denied ever increasing its cargo handling charges.
Efforts by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council to compel the Port Terminal Operators Limited (PTOL) to reverse and withdraw the charges have failed.
The NPA, acting on petitions and pleas of shippers and freight forwarders, had in late May summoned concerned stakeholders to a meeting where it was decided that PTOL reverse to the old rates. The organisation reportedly complied.
It was however, reliably learnt that last Tuesday, the PTOL management surprisingly reintroduced invoices bearing exorbitant rates to the chagrin of importers and customs agents.
Seabreezenews gathered that the development has allegedly led to a temporary suspension of berthing meetings by key shipping stakeholders in the port.
Consequently, goods worth billions of Naira may have been stranded in the terminal since big players such as Dangote, Dufil, Royal Salt, BUA, are frequent users of the port.
A shipping agent, who regularly patronises the port, told our correspondent that the new rates not only violated laid down rules of engagement and stipulated yearly percentage increment but also an abuse of trust and customership which may lead to importers diverting their vessels or cargo elsewhere henceforth.
In the words of the agent, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, “How do you want people to survive or cope with the resultant increment in cost of goods and services that this increment will portend? PTOL suddenly changed a bill of N6billion to close to N50billion! For me, is that not some 900 percent raise? The same thing goes for other massive bulk cargo importers.
“With Naira value depreciating daily, you now add these exorbitant charges plus the new official exchange rate by the Nigeria Customs Service. Things will certainly not augur well for both the rich and the poor and the economy that is already weak. If care is not taken, most importers might dump PTOL and return to Lagos”.
He further regretted PTOL’s inability to improve on infrastructures in the port and
wondered why it could not respect both the NPA who are the landlord and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the Regulator.
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council had intervened severally, cautioning all port terminal operators to be circumspect and considerate when reviewing their terminal handling charges considering the impact of the decision on the economy.
In a recent memo, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council warned that port handling charges’ review would be done on a port-by-port performance basis and not unilaterally by the port operators.
According to the memo, “Unilateral increase in charges/introduction of the new tariff headings and charges constitutes a direct disregard of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Local Shipping Charges on Import and Export) Regulation 1997 and Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Port Economic) Regulations 2015.
“Consequently, all service providers are by this notice reminded that: Review of charges/introduction of new tariffs headings and charges shall be subject to the guidelines provided by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.”
However, a spokesman of PTOL, Mr. Godwin, told PortNews correspondent that it was ridiculous to allege that the management had increased charges by 900 percent.
“This is not true at all. We only increase charges by 5.0 per cent whereas others have increased by much more. We even cancelled arrears. Please endeavour to come here and verify by yourself. We don’t work in isolation, we work, in respect to government laid down rules,” he said.
He however, admitted that stevedoring charges per tonnage had been increased which might add to lump sums for large volumes importers.
While reacting to the development, the National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Increase Uche, said a 900 per cent increase in handling charges by PTOL could not be true.
Uche however said that he was aware that the company and other terminals in the seaports in the country had submitted a review proposal in their handling charges to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, to which the Economic Regulator was yet to give a nod.
He stressed that PTOL and others, for many years, had not increased their charges and doing so now could be justified considering a constant rise in the costs of handling equipment, electricity bill, labour salaries/wages and other production factors.