Importers and licensed customs agents operating in Port Terminal Operators Limited (PTOL) in Port Harcourt port at the weekend expressed their grievances over the recently introduced new handling charges by management of the terminal operator.
This is even as efforts by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) to compel the PTOL to reverse and withdraw the charges has failed.
Recall that the NPA, acting on petitions and pleas of shippers and freight forwarders, had in late May 2021 summoned concerned stakeholders to a meeting where it was decided that PTOL reverses to its old rates. The organisation reportedly complied then.
However, on Tuesday, June 6, PTOL management reintroduced invoices bearing exorbitant rates to the chagrin of importers and customs agents, a development that has allegedly led to a temporary suspension of berthing meetings by key shipping stakeholders in the port.
A shipping agent, Felix Nwankwo, who patronises the terminal regularly told journalists at the weekend that the new rates not only violate laid down rules of engagement and stipulated yearly percentage increment but it is an abuse of trust and customership which may lead to importers diverting their vessels or cargo elsewhere henceforth.
According to Mr Nwankwo, “How do you want people to survive or cope with the resultant increment in cost of goods and service that this increment will portend? PTOL suddenly changed a bill of N6 million to close to N50 million for me. Is that not some 900 per cent increment? The same thing goes for other massive bulk cargo importers. With naira value depreciating daily, you now add these exorbitant charges to 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,” lamented the shipping agent who is also a customs agent.
He further regretted PTOL’s inability to improve on infrastructure in the port.
He wondered why PTOL could not respect both the NPA who are the landlords and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the economic 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.
“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,” the NSC’s recent circular had stated
Defending the hike in charges at the Port Harcourt port, a spokesman of PTOL, Mr Godwin explained that it is ridiculous to allege that the management had increased charges by 900 per cent.
“This is not true at all. We only increased charges by 5 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 have been increased which may add to lump sums for large volume importers.
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