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Interview: Providing seaport terminal services amid COVID-19 concerns – STOAN

The race in keeping port operations running to sustain supply chain for essential goods; food and medicament amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is most challenging. And for its pivotal role, the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) takes a vigilant forefront to help essential supplies reach society.
Marking real time on the task means observing all established protocols for safety at this time, including ensuring that vessels must have been on sail for at least 14 days or wait until 14 days before they are allowed at berth and cargo discharged.

Reviewing the operational environment of seaport terminal services since the lockdown in Lagos as a result of the COVID-19, Spokesman of STOAN, Bolaji Akinola, told our correspondent that save for the President’s precise directive exempting port workers from movement restrictions, it would have been more difficult as security operatives enforcing the lockdown order kept harassing

port workers.
Here, Akinola talks of the supportive role of the Nigerian Ports Authority, and how much the Nigerian Shippers’ Council did in mobilizing to ensure that some banks got to work in the port city of Apapa, to enable payment transactions.
Trade outlooks, globally, just as in Nigeria, may not be anything so encouraging in the nearest future, Akinola added.
 
However, an immediate problem STOAN wants to address is for cargo
owners, especially those that are non-essential goods, to come move out their
cargoes to give room for essential cargoes at this time.

The full interview: 

How has terminal operators been managing real time providing services in this COVID-19 situation?
 
Of course you know President Muhammadu Buhari expressly directed that the ports must remain open and shipping activities must continue, so that there would not be disruption in the supply chain, especially at this time, a lot of essential materials, cargoes that the country needs to survive and also to fight the coronavirus are coming in through the seaport. So, the president in his wisdom directed the Nigerian Ports Authority and other relevant agencies to ensure that the ports continue working, and that vessels, after observing the mandatory 14 days at sea, are directed to berth and to discharge their cargoes. All of those are going on. And taking a cue from there, the terminal operators are active; we have sustained our operations and working round the clock 24/7. 
 
All our workers are on their duty posts. Essential workers are all at the port. Those who are administrative staff and those who can work from home in line with the social distancing policy are also encouraged to work from home. Those who must operate the crane, be on ground to serve consignees are definitely on ground. Support has been provided to ensure they are able to come to work and go back home safely.
Also, all the safety measures and precautions outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Nigerian Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) as well as the NPA and NIMASA and the Port Health also, are being adhered to.
All our workers at the port have their PPEs and they have them on at all time. For those who have to be at the port, social distancing is strongly observed; adequate spacing maintained. Any worker or visitor to the facility is thoroughly screened and temperature checks are taken. Unnecessary gatherings are not allowed at this time, especially in operational areas.
 
Before any vessel is discharged, the Port Health Service, Immigration and the NPA do their due diligence and we ensure that those vessels are properly cleared before berthing and discharged. It is important to note that there is very minimal contact or even zero contact between the ship crew and the ground handling operatives. Terminal operators have been up and doing  in terms of supporting the Federal Government and the various state governments in the fight against this pandemic, in addition to observing all the safety measures outlined by the NCDC and others. 
 
Various terminal operators have been making donations. To the NPA, we are donating PPEs. We have been strongly involved in creating awareness within the port community and to the general public through handbills, which were shared to every trucker in Apapa. All visitors to the ports are adequately enlightened through videos, fliers, banners and all social media network available through which the campaign can be carried out. We need to keep informing our people that this is a collective battle. Everyone has a role to play, especially in the area of observing hygiene, washing their hands, avoiding touching their eyes, nose, mouth and their face, and maintain social distancing and avoiding unnecessary gathering of people above 20 persons.
 
Operating real time at this period, what factors have been supporting/ challenging the system?
 
First, the supporting factor has been the pronouncement by President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that there must be continuity in shipping and port operations. I think that is one big pronouncement that has helped us to keep going. In the absence of that, it would have been a big problem all together.
For me, that is the biggest supporting factor. We must also commend the NPA, going round the port ensuring that the president’s directive is implemented and encouraging operators, providing the necessary support to ensure that there is continuity in operation. We must also commend the port workers, the freight forwarders. They have been very supportive, and they have shown a lot of dedication to ensuring continuity in the provision of port services in the country.
 
The hindrances at the initial stage was the banks. Of course, you know we have a situation right now where we have to get lot of cargoes out of the port to make room for essential cargoes particularly. A lot of them are coming at this time, but we have a lot of non-essential cargo that are still occupying space.
We have a situation now whereby our ports in Lagos; Tin-Can Island and Apapa Ports, are about 95 % occupied, capacity-wise. And that is recipe for congestion. And most of those cargoes are non-essential. So, we are encouraging people to come and remove them, so that we can make room for essential cargo.
At the beginning of the lockdown many banks did not come up and it created a lot of problems for consignees. But, that has changed and I must commend the Nigerian Shippers’ Council. It rose up to the challenge to rally the banks to get to work.
 
The other challenge is the harassment of port workers by security operatives on the road. The Federal Government has designated port workers are essential service workers, which means they are allowed to leave their home and go to work in the port, after which the go back home.
Unfortunately, the going to work or going back home, they have faced a lot of harassment. We have had some of the workers arrested and detained, and some of them asked to part with amounts of money before they were allowed to go. That was a major hindrance. We also had some situations before the Shippers’ Council stepped in, some freight forwarders also complained of being harassed. So, we want to appeal again to the security operatives to please see the port workers as essential service workers who are need in the port to ensure that we take cargoes out of the port to where they are needed.
 
Considering everything happening now globally, how would it impact on trade outlook in the nearest future?   
 
Right now, it is difficult to tell what it would be like. But if we were to take a cue from what the global financial authorities are saying, I don’t think the future is looking very good for trade. For instance, some of the largest ports in the world are losing substantial volumes. For instance, the
biggest port in the US, the Port of Los Angeles, for last month, witnessed a decline of about 30 % in its cargo throughput.
And the projection is that the April report would even be worse somewhere around 40-50 %. So, it tells you that trade is going to take a very bad hit, post COVID-19, and I don’t think Nigeria will be an exception. Of course, for us here in Nigeria, I pray that the situation is not worse. Even the CBN has warned of possible recession, and what that means is that trade would be badly hit. But to what extent, it is difficult to tell. However, trade generally is going to experience a hit and on shipping, volumes will be affected. But, by how much, I can’t tell.

 

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