Nigeria: COVID-19 - Terminal Operators Want Ports to Remain Open

(file photo).
27 March 2020

Terminal operators at the nation's seaports have stressed the need for the nation's ports to remain open at all times while the federal and state governments battle to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Vicky Haastrup, who stated this in a statement explained: "As we face the global public health crisis birthed by the Coronavirus disease, otherwise known as COVID-19, we advise government to ensure that the supply chain is not disrupted and the seaports keep running.

"Even if other sectors of the economy are shut down to guard against the spread of the virus, the seaports should remain open to ensure that there is no shortage of food, drugs and other essential supply to Nigerians."

This is just as the Nigerian Ports authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) have employed several measures to curb the spread of the dreaded virus.

As part of the measures, staff members who are not on essential duty have been directed to work from home by both agencies. However, the NPA has said that Nigeria has not gotten any issue that could warrant shutting down its seaports at the moment.

On its part, NSC has partially shut down its offices and direct staff to work from home as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus.

The General Manager, Strategic Communications, of NPA, Jato Adams, said shutting the ports would be at the prerogative of the federal government.

"For now, we do have any issue that could warrant shutting the ports and we are expecting that if there is anything; the Port Health will let us know.

"So it is only the Port Health that can make that decision," he said.

Meanwhile, Haastrup in her statement emphasised that the shipping sector was key in contributing to secure the continuity of economic activities, ensuring supply chains to industries; transport of essential goods, including energy and food supplies, and transport of vital medical and protective equipment, and supplies,

She said: "It is imperative for the fight against COVID-19, the supply of essentials, as well as for increasing the chance of the economic recovery on the other side of the outbreak, that maritime and connected transport is allowed to continue, and that government works actively to support the sector throughout the period of the crisis.

"The continued functionality of the ports and port ecosystems is imperative for securing movement of goods at scale, for prevention of shortages and thus for maintenance of public order.

"Observations from China during the COVID-19 outbreak show how a top priority given by national leaders to ensure business continuity in ports can help minimize the impact of precautionary measures on the fluidity of trade and port operations.

"Central actions were supplemented by local initiative from local logistics and shipping industry. While much of Chinese society was in lockdown during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, Chinese ports continued operations with minimum disruptions. This was not least due to the top-down instruction by the Chinese government to stay open and prioritize business continuity in all provinces across the country.

"The Chinese experience is reflected in the European Union's response to COVID-19. The EU guidelines for border management measures to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services issued on March 16, 2020, advised countries to ensure that their control measures did not undermine the continuity of economic activity and should preserve the operation of supply chains."

Haastrup added that supply of essential goods is important to enable the country get through the COVID-19 crisis as well as ensure "economic continuity."

"The examples from China and the EU show that the functionality of ports and transport systems must be a priority in the effort to manage COVID-19 outbreak," she said.

The STOAN chairman assured stakeholders that to guard against the virus' transmission through the ports, terminal operators are working with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to ensure that ships arriving the country report crew list and their health status before being allowed to berth.

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