Barge Accident: Cargo stakeholders demand NIMASA’s investigation be made public

A group of cargo-interest defending stakeholders has demanded that the report of the investigation being conducted by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) into the cause of a barge that capsized in Lagos creek recently in which cargo valued over N500 million damaged should be made public.

While demanding full compensation for the owners of the affected cargo, the stakeholders said the accident happened as a result of dereliction of regulatory functions by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), and NIMASA and therefore called for the resignation of the heads of the agencies forthwith.

Addressing the media in Lagos yesterday on their findings of the cause of the accident, the stakeholders comprising of shippers, traders, freight forwarders’ associations, and advocacy groups noted that there was no cohesive, restructured, and practicable regulatory architecture for barge operations prior to the commencement and the accident as safety and security concern was never a driving force rather profit-making.

They said that shipping lines and terminal operators unilaterally resort to convey containers to off-dock terminals using barges without recourse to the cargo owners for their consents which, they said, is an aberration in business agreement laws.

The cargo-interest defending stakeholders bemoaned the poor environmental condition the containers taken to off-dock terminals are subjected to as many of the jetties and off-docks lack paved floors and cargo handling equipment.                      

They maintained that this happens because most agencies of the government in the ports do not have the interest of cargo other than revenue interest as this position makes it easier for all manners of charges and extortions to thrive unabated.

According to the stakeholders, “the unilateral practice of transferring imports to an off-dock terminal via barge or hauling by road without the consent or recourse to the cargo owners is a professional and business aberration in all standards.

“An ideal best practices entail that, not only that the shippers be adequately put on notice of the intention to locally divert their cargo to an off-dock terminal, but that their consent should be sought and given the opportunity to re-enter into local contractual obligations and terms with regards to the local diversion of their shipments via truck or barges. Such an agreement will afford them the opportunity to renegotiate appropriate insurance risk coverage and competitive freight/trucking and landing charges.

“Unfortunately, all local arrangement is carried out without the consent of the cargo owners including all manners of extra charges and levies slammed on them.

“Our finding shows that an industry pricing system and regulations have not been officially established or published thereby making barge operation an all-comers affair, hence no immediate and monitor regulatory obligation with regards to barge operations in the sector.

“The operational conditions of the stacking space where the off-dock terminal operators subject the shippers’ cargo to are an eyesore. The container stacking surface areas are either rough or waterlogged. At some instance, the shippers receive their imports damaged and helpless as not knowing what to do or who to run to, to seek for an intervention.”

The multiplier effect of this, according to the stakeholders, is inflation and the high cost of imported goods in the market. They, therefore, called on the federal government to formulate a legislative and firm economic regulation for the industry.

“We hereby demand full compensation for the cargo owners as the conditions and situation leading to the loss of cargo are not theirs. The operational arrangement was skewed against them, the non-firm supervision and monitoring by the agencies of the government is no their fault, as they relied on the leadership to safeguard their investment. Hence, the regulatory objectives and administration failed them. We, therefore, request the Ministry of Transportation to direct for the immediate compensation for all losses incurred by the affected shippers,” said the stakeholders who said they had sympathized with the affected shippers.    

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