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ADR: How Shippers’ Council’s initiatives boost dispute resolution
Unfolding indication is to the effect that the Federal Government’s new emphasis on the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as a more preferred option to litigation in the settlement of disputes among maritime industry stakeholders may have begun to yield the expected dividends.
The initiative which was being anchored by the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), according to some of the beneficiaries has also shown that the ADR option, between last yeat when it was flagged off and today, saved the the local shippers over N200 million.
Between April and December last year, the council received a total of 66 complaints, 54 were resolved and made a savings of over N200million comprising of N147.7 million, $93,000 and Dh 192,000.
“This whooping sum of money could have become an extra business cost, in addition to the cost of litigation at the law court”, Damion Uboh, an importer of pharma-ceutical products observed, wondering why the country delayed the adoption of the initiative till early last year.
The TribuneBusiness learnt that beginning from the first quarter of 2011, when the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) made the first successful attempt to settle cases which arose from complaints received from either the service providers or consumers of services at the nation’s ports, the council’s complaint centre established in April last year has become a beehive of activities.
It was also learnt that most of the complaints arose because the shipping agencies and terminal operators often exploited their strategic positions to subject importers to unfair treatment, resulting frequently in accumulated demurrage and payment of avoidable storage charges as a result of delays that most often had nothing to do with the shippers.
“In most cases the importers have painfully paid, though in protest, before engaging the service providers in time consuming and costly litigations or follow up, but which in most cases would not ever be refunded.
“This undoubtedly leads to high cost of shipping and cost of port services which ultimately is transferred to the final cost of the products in the open markets”, Mazi Damion Uboh indicated further, noting that the patronage by importers of several fraudulent clearing agents while pursuing their grievances with service providers, as a result of their lack of basic shipping knowledge has equally impacted negatively, on their overall business objectives.
Echoing similar view, another importer, Livinus Etabuno said but for the grace of God, some of them would have since gone out of business, only to swell the growing army of the unemployed.
“Many of us might have been sent out of business if not for the various interventions from the shippers’ council which curtailed the extortionist tendencies of some of the service providers through bogus levies and charges” stated Etabuno in Apapa over the weekend while highlighting the need to commend the Nigeria Shippers Council for their rescue intervention.
He also lauded the Government on the effort to directly tinker with controlling inflation through the Council’s efforts for appropriate cost of warehousing, marketing and distribution cost, as well as ensuring effective profit markup, all in a bid to ensure a realistic price of goods for the end users.
An industry watcher, Poju Olabode however blamed what he perceived as the apparent poor adherence of several agents to the directives of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (CRFFN), another initiative of the NSC endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Transport (FMOT) to monitor, control and boosts the activities of freight forwarders, noting that most of the agrieved shippers, had often approached their matters with unhidden hostility which frequently resulted in their being treated with disdain, instead of the required respect or sympathetic understanding, as customers.
“One other reason for the mounting complaints against the Service providers at the port is borne out of the fact that there seems not to be standard charges or penalty for refund of the statutory container deposit. The operators therefore charge arbitrarily and excessively, a development which the shippers have not taken very kindly to”, he remarked, adding that most of the complaints that were resolved amicably between the parties by the council were largely those involving issues of excessive storage and demurrage charges by terminal operators or shipping lines.
He maintained that in most cases, the Service providers were in the habit of over charging, due to wrong calculation of chargeable days occasioned, by failure to provide suitable equipment for unstuffing of containers during physical examination, besides the refusal of some shipping companies to receive empty containers as soon they were returned.
“It is a confirmation of the hostile condition under which the Nigerian business class has been operating at the ports. It also revealed how the Federal Government has successfully used its agency, the Nigerian Shippers Council to keep inflation under control, while keeping the helpless middle class port operators in business” he posited further, noting also the excessive and bogus demurrage charges by some off-dock terminals due to long and unnecessary delay in clearing bills, thereby orchestrating some of the complaints the council had to settle between the petitioners and the service providers.
Records showed that some individuals and companies that have benefited from ADR initiative of the Council included, the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Ltd. New Care Ventures, Exodus collection and a handful of others.
The Niger Delta Power Holding Company in September 2011 for instance, petitioned the Nigerian Shippers Council complaining against the non enforcement of the government approved 70 per cent waiver on National Independent Power Projects (NIPP) containers, by the Sharaf Shipping Agency Ltd. in respect of 15 containers with the numbers CATU 8422998, TEX U5563428, MLCU 9318362, CZHU 8912296, and
INKU 2569124 covered by bills of lading QENA 3JKOO and QEENA 3L200.
A FMOT senior staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, because the official spokesman, Kingslye Agha was unavailable confirmed it,
adding that the government actually secured the desired refund.
“We intervened in the matter and we succeeded in making the shipping agency enforced the waiver on the containers as approved by the government. The complainant was issued a new invoice reflecting the waiver and we helped the company to reduce the charges from N12,082,656 to only N3,624,794; thereby saving not less than N8,457,855.00.Share