Ethiopia: Container Pilferage Takes Toll On Coffee Exporters

opinion

Coffee exporters have been suffering from and grappling with theft and fear of escalated reputation distortion, as container pilferage continues to cause considerable losses to bagged and containerized coffee, The Reporter has learnt.

Six months after the reporting of container pilferages on exporters, similar incidents have occurred upsetting a handful of exporting companies who fear Ethiopia's coffee market would suffer a serious blow from irate international buyers.

Tadesse Desta Business Group, mostly focused on the import and export business, is one of the top performing exporters of coffee with 300 container shipments last year. The company was vying to achieve similar results which would have seen some 57,600 quintals of coffee exported.

However, the company's recent shipments to Russia, Portugal and Taiwan have suffered from the theft of 70 bags and 64 bags, weighing 60 kilograms out of the 320 bags in the container, each destined to Russia and Portugal, respectively. Making matters worse, a container of 320 bags of 30 kilograms specialty coffee, exported to Taiwan, was found to be almost half empty, losing 124 bags when it reached the buyer's destination. That translates into a total loss of 135 quintals coffee worth USD 42,000.

Similarly, Tracon Trading PLC, another business company, has suffered a loss of 250 quintals of export bound coffee, which could have fetched close to USD 100,000.

According to Elias Omer, executive director of Tracon Trading, the company has installed a seamless scaling system and digital machineries to avoid weight loss mostly caused due to human error. Yet, the sealed cargo is vulnerable to tampering and stealing from sealed containers; for which he points his accusations against truck drivers.

Six months ago, The Reporter wrote on similar cases where a systematically orchestrated cargo pilferage destined for the export market was trending and some 150 quintals of coffee was lost while being shipped to respective destinations through Djibouti. Back then, Testi Coffee Trading PLC, Mulege PLC, Sidama Coffee Farmers' Cooperative Union, Abbahawa Trading PLC, Fahm General Trading PLC and the likes have reported on losses caused by cargo pilferages.

Infuriated by the incidents, Tadesse Desta, the owner and general manager of Tadesse Desta Business Group, told The Reporter that truck drivers are the ones to blame. He said that if the government continues to fail in safeguarding official export cargos, his firm and the like will simply be forced to exit the sector.

Both Tadesse and Elias have called for stringent measures to be taken against drivers saying, "The lack of law enforcement is becoming an incentive for offenders to tamper and steal more and go unchecked." Both exporters received money for the shipments prior to shipment. However, the shipments reached the destinations with less volume and against the purchase contract. That is what worries traders for future consequences. The thefts, both said not only cause personal businesses a loss, but largely tarnish the country's reputation, for buyers would shift to other countries and to reliable suppliers.

Some nine years ago, the Federal High Court had passed stiff sentences on five drivers who were found guilty of pilfering textile cargo shipped by the bankrupted Ayka Addis Textile and Investment Group for export purposes. The thieves were handed up to 25 years of imprisonment and a financial fine of up to 20,000 birr each.

Recalling the sentencing, Girma Butta, manager of shipping and exports with Akakas Logistics PLC - one of the foremost shipping agents in Ethiopia that transported part of the ill-fated coffee - demanded similar measures to be considered. Grima elaborated on how the act of pilferage has been committed and instigated.

According to Girma, in the past six months, three types of damages have been identified that affected locally staffed and sealed containers. One of the methods of tampering and stealing from shipping containers is by replacing the screw bolts that attach the locking rods with a fortified bolt seals.

A container has two lock-rods and by uniting the lock-rods, relatively with a fortified bolt seals, the cargo is presumed to be secure for shipment. Hence, the unnamed pilfers have succeeded to open some of the freight containers devoid of breaking or cutting the bolt seals. On the other hand, the bolt seals could also be cut and replaced by another seal. Alternative method to that could involve cutting the roof of the container off and seal it back as it was.

Adugna Debela (PhD), director of the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority told The Reporter that two weeks ago such incidents have been reported and the Authority has alerted the National Export Promotion Committee under the purview of the Office of the Prime Minister.

"A task force is on duty to address the matter seriously," he said. According to Adugna the pilferage is exercised along the trade corridor to Djibouti from the town of Modjo, some 64 kilometers from Addis Ababa. To the surprise of Tadesse, the abundance supply of export graded coffee with cheap price in places such as Metehara where coffee does not grow, has got to do with thefts and diverted consignments insisting authorities to seriously investigate and take appropriate measures.

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