Why we can’t sanction firms over container deposits – Shippers’ council

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The Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, has explained why the agency cannot sanction erring shipping companies over non-refund of container deposits to Nigerian importers.

The Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, NSC, Emmanuel Jime, who stated this in a chat with our correspondent in Lagos on Monday, said since he assumed office, nobody had lodged complaints against any shipping company over non-refund of container deposits.

He said that until a complaint was lodged against shipping companies over container deposits, the agency could not do anything.

“I cannot remember in the time that I have been the ES of NSC that anyone has lodged a complaint about a container deposit claim that we have found to be in breach of the current container deposit regime and we have not attended to that complaint. So, my answer is that you have to lodge a complaint and allow the unit to intervene. Where we find out that there is a breach, of course, we have the legal framework and the mechanism to sanction whoever is in breach of the processes.

“For instance, we have a complaint unit. When you present facts to the complaint unit and we do our investigations and find out that there is a breach of the due process, of course, we will actually apply sanctions where necessary. You can’t apply sanctions holistically; it has to arise out of complaint that somebody has laid before the Shippers Council’s Complaint Unit.”

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Container deposits are refundable fees paid by importers to shipping companies before taking delivery of their containerised consignment. The money is supposed to be refunded to the importers when containers are returned to shipping companies.

Importers are to pay N200, 000 for a 40-foot container that is going within Lagos and N400, 000 for a 40-foot container going outside Lagos. About N100, 000 is paid for a 20-foot container going within Lagos and N200, 000 for a 20-foot container going outside Lagos, findings show.

Jime, however, accused shipping companies of deliberately focusing on collecting container deposits than doing the actual business of shipping, adding that the processes of administering the scheme had been of great disadvantage to the Nigerian shipping community.

“We totally understand the frustrations of Nigerian shippers on this container deposit issue. It is a matter that has been going on in the industry as long as I can remember. So, let us be clear that it is not a matter that started yesterday. Unfortunately, it is the sad part of the processes in our ports, and it is something that worries us. The manner in which the process has been administered so far is greatly skewed to the disadvantages of the shipping community in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, I think it is fair to even argue that the shipping companies are actually engaging in this container deposits more as a means of raising funds outside the culture of shipping itself.”

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According to him, “In other words, in the Nigerian Shippers Council, we take the view that the shipping companies will prefer the container deposit to the actual business of shipping. It appears that they are making a lot more money in the container deposits than they would have been making from conducting the business of shipping itself.”

The NCS boss also noted that the council was engaging in a container deposit regime which would address the challenge. “At the moment, there is a container deposit insurance platform that the Shippers Council is engaging in to introduce in the industry. I believe that if you introduce the deposit insurance, it will take away from the holders of the shipping community directly. We know what the insurance regime in an industry normally looks like.”

Meanwhile the Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Stanley Ezenga, said that the container deposit regime was a scam, noting that it was only in Nigeria that the deposits could be collected.

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“Container deposit is a scam by all the shipping companies. The container deposits are not paid in most countries, but here in Nigeria, they collect all those deposits. Most of us here are not even against that because it is like a guarantee that you will return the container. But the problem is when you return the container and apply for the refund, it takes months, which is where we have issues with these shipping companies.”

He said that the NSC could only bark but would not bite. “You know Shippers Council is like a toothless bulldog. They bark, but I have not seen them punishing those who have erred in what they are doing. We don’t want just talk, we want action,” he said.

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