Following complaints from shippers about their nightmare over container deposit, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), the ports economic regulator, has directed multinational shipping companies in Nigeria to urgently abolish container deposit being collected from shippers.
Executive Secretary, NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello, who led a team of top management staff of the council on a visit to some of the shipping companies, said the NSC had been inundated with series of complaints from shippers on their nightmares over container deposit.
Container deposit means the monetary deposit on beverage or other containers at the point of sale. Container deposit is demanded by shipping companies from importers as a guaranty for the return of their empty containers. The deposit is expected to be refunded once the empty containers are returned to the shipping companies by the shippers.
But customs agents across Nigeria have complained over the years that the shipping companies either looked for excuses to deny them the refund or delay in doing so.
The NSC boss, while urging the shipping companies to make the refund within four days after the empty container has been returned, said the shipping companies should also consider ending the regime of collecting deposits.
According to Bello, shipping companies opting to end the collection of container deposit could discuss the issue of how to safeguard their empty containers if possible with an agreement that will be binding on the shipper.
He also raised the issue of indemnity being demanded from customs agents by the shipping companies, saying this should be stopped.
The NSC boss asked the shipping companies to consider, as a matter of national interest, to waive some demurrage caused by the gridlock on the roads leading to the Lagos ports.
According to him, shippers cannot be compelled to pay for demurrage on his goods at the ports for which he was not the cause.
He stressed the need to make the ship manifest available early enough within the stipulated time before the arrival of the vessel to enable relevant agencies make plans for the reception of the goods.
Bello requested that the shipping companies should support the Inland Dry Ports (IDP) by facilitating safe transportation of goods to the dry ports with Bill of Lading.
In his response, the Managing Director of Grimaldi Agency Nigeria, Mr. Ascannio Russo, denied that his company delays refund of container deposit to shippers on return of the empty containers.
He said that the shipper did not need to come to the office to get his refund, adding that company has an arrangement in which the shipper can just make a phone call or send an email to the company and get his refund within four days.
Russo added that in effect, the company does not collect container deposits from all of its customers, explaining that those who pay container deposits were importers who are not well structured to be entrusted with empty containers.
He expressed concern that clearing of goods in Nigeria was an all comer's affair, stressing this forced his company to register all customs agents doing business with them.
He disclosed that so far, the company had registered over 10,000 customs agents who do business at the PTML terminal.
Russo, while assuring that ship manifests have always been given out to the relevant authorities in good time in both soft and hard copies, said this would continue.
He commended the efforts of the NSC in the dry ports and Truck Transit projects and said his company would be ready to facilitate movement of goods to the IDP with Bill of Lading.
Director, Customer Service, Central West Africa, Maerskline, Mr. Razak Ngula claimed that his company does not delay in the payment of refund on deposit to importers.
Ngula also said that not all of its customers are required to pay container deposit.
Both Russo and Ngula pointed out gridlock in the ports environment as their major headaches.
Meanwhile, Bello told journalists that the NSC as the ports economic regulator is currently working on abolishing payment of container deposit.
He said that the Council would look at the regime of container deposit in line with international practice for the purpose of achieving efficiency.
Bello explained that what the council was doing was simply to ensure efficiency in ports operation.
He disclosed that the Council would soon sign an agreement with the shipping companies on achieving a sustainable mechanism for resolving disputes in all areas of industry interest.