Following appeal by stakeholders in the maritime industry and in line with global best practice, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) recently directed all terminal operators to suspend all applicable terminal storage fees on consignments, also known as demurrage for an initial period of 21 days.
The NPA also stated that the gesture was in recognition of the pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic imposes on businesses and the responsibility imposed on the authority to relieve this burden on its customers.
The NPA in a statement issued by its General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Adams Jatto, added that the measure was part of its bid to attain the objective of the federal government's Ease of Doing Business Policy.
According to the NPA, "The authority recognises the financial implications of these policies on the terminal operators and will consider a shift in our operational charges to ameliorate the situation of stakeholders."
This is just as the NPA recently announced that it has donated Agura Hotels, Abuja, as isolation centre for COVID-19 after consultation with other shareholders.
"The NPA as majority shareholder of the Agura Hotels, Abuja, in consultation with other shareholders, have agreed to donate the 130-bed fully furnished hotel as isolation centre for COVID-19 in Abuja.
"This is a social responsibility initiative aimed at supporting efforts of the Federal Government to contain the spread of the virus in Nigeria. The authority encourages all Nigerians to follow all advisories issued by the National Centre for Disease Control and be confident that Nigeria shall overcome."
In a related development, the NPA announced that import and export operations would continue at the ports in Lagos, despite a curfew declared on the state by President Muhammadu Buhari.
"Consequent to the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari that Lagos seaports, (Apapa and Tin can Island Ports) should remain open in the duration of the two-week lockdown of Lagos State, the Nigerian Ports Authority hereby assures all stakeholders that arrangements have been made for operations at the ports to continue without hindrance.
"Safety procedures, which will guarantee the wellbeing and security of stakeholders and staff have been put in place and all are advised to kindly comply with directives of port officials, "the NPA said.
"All other government agencies responsible for smooth operations in the ports are enjoined to be at their respective duty posts to discharge their functions in line with the presidential directive of maintaining operational functions at the Lagos ports.
"The management of the Nigerian Ports Authority assures all stakeholders of its commitment to facilitation of trade in Nigeria, "it added.
Following the coronavirus crisis that has made it virtually impossible for goods to be cleared on time at the nation's seaports, custom agents in the country had recently called on the federal government to direct shipping companies and terminal operators to immediately halt demurrage charges and taxes to avoid friction at the ports.
The National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), the umbrella body of customs agents in the country, Mr. Iju Tony Nwabunike, had made the plea in a recent letter addressed to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.