The Director of Port of Tema, Sandra Opoku, the CEO of Meridian Port Services Mohammed Samara and the Tema Customs Sector Commander, Joseph Adu-Kyei have urged freight forwarders and stakeholders in the port clearance chain to take advantage of technology such as the paperless system, as the country strives to control the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking on Eye on Port’s live interactive platform, the industry players maintained that the Ports of Ghana remain operational, however, their individual outfits are undertaking effective measures that would ensure human interactions are reduced significantly so that the ports do not contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
“We will still maintain the same level of service for everybody. We will work 24/7 with the help of Customs and GPHA, to make sure ships are coming in and out of the port,” Mohammed Samara said.
“We will also ensure that the number of port users, and casuals who enter the port is reduced. We would have to structure the number of freight forwarders entering our Golden Jubilee Terminal to clear their container. Maybe twenty people in a certain time frame and by appointment systems so that we don’t have a lot of crowding in our terminal,” the Director of Port of Tema, Sandra Opoku revealed.
The Tema Customs Sector Commander added, “we will not allow people to come into our offices because now we can see that the horizontal transmission of the coronavirus is very dangerous.”
The Director of Port of Tema, Sandra Opoku, acknowledged the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and said the Port of Tema is considering more drastic methods of reducing human contact in the port areas, in addition to methods that have already been put in place over the past couple of months.
She revealed that currently not only are workers and visitors in the port screened on daily basis, and hygiene practices enforced, but GPHA has also ensured that its buses for transporting staff as well as official meetings are decongested greatly.
“With the meetings, we would not have to meet at a round table to discuss things. We will be doing the teleconferencing and things like that. Even the vessels coming in, we would have to limit the number of people on the terminal,” she disclosed.
Sandra Opoku indicated that the Port Security would ensure that crew change overs that hitherto was a common practice in the shipping industry is ceased completely in order to prevent imported cases of coronavirus through the sea ports.
“Now we would not be able to give assure passes to even crew who would normally bringing the cargo. So nobody would be able to go out.”
She also revealed that the port would, henceforth, ensure that the number of importers and freight forwarders who enter the port for their goods would be reduced significantly and in addition to that, a more robust appointment scheme would be deployed by the Port Authority to reduce the human traffic in the port.
“Now this family and friends’ entourage certainly that’s not the way to go. We will have to cut down on that. So if the shipping agent is coming and just one importer, then we’d allow you in,” she said.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Meridian Ports Services, Mohammed Samara, disclosed that a crisis committee has been set up to address operations during this era of coronavirus pandemic.
He entreated importers to make use of the effective data system that MPS has invested heavily in.
“We have invested heavily in the paperless system and we have successfully turned the Tema Port into a paperless port. We have invested in pay gates and we have a good number of freight forwarders who have registered and taking advantage of this pay gate. You can access your invoice online and pay online as well. I encourage everybody to do that,” he urged.
The CEO of MPS revealed that the Port Terminal is considering sending some of its administrative staff home where they can remotely work, while the operational staff observe strict preventive measures.
“We will start to look at converting certain positions and giving them remote access. We will reduce the number of people who are coming to office and have them quarantined at home,” he said.
The Tema Sector Commander of Customs, Joseph Adu Kyei, said at the Tema Long room importers apply for changes in their manifest which can’t be done electronically so they troop into the long room to have their changes effected manually.
He said the Customs Division in addition to the provision of hand sanitizers and soaps, and running water at vantage points at its offices, full personal protective equipment have also been distributed to customs officers who go on board vessels and also undertake physical inspection.
“It was very necessary that we protect such officers, so we have been able to secure the protective gear for officers who go on board. So far we have about 20 of them.”
The Assistant Commissioner also said the Customs Division will reduce the workload of officers, and adopt a scheme that will make officers rotate frequently so that a large number of workers do not work at the same time.
“If it comes to the crunch, then we should do shift system within the team, and we break ourselves into small groups where some customs officers work at a time, and others later.”
The Assistant commissioner also hinted that, Customs may adopt a drop-box system where documents are left in an information box and lifted by officers to work on and later picked up by freight forwarders.
“We have put a notice that, drop your application in this box where officers would come and take them for processing so that we will reduce the human interaction.”
Unlikely Port Shutdown
Mohammed Samara did not rule out a potential shut down of the port terminal should the local situation become worse.
He, however, stated that it is an unlikely situation and MPS is hoping to remain in operations due to the essential nature Port operations play in Ghana’s economy.
The MPS Boss admitted that even though container volumes have not reduced in Tema, there is a major concern by Port operators that if the pandemic reaches absolute severity in the long term, the Port is likely to suffer.
“At the moment, there isn’t any drop in volumes, but that doesn’t mean going forward we won’t,” he indicated.
The Director of the Port of Tema, corroborated the CEO of MPS’ submission, but described the resumption of work by factories in China as a silver lining as China remains Ghana’s leading trading partner.
Rent and Demurrage Waivers
Sandra Opoku said GPHA will consider waiving some rent charges that would be accrued as a result of a direct impact of the Port Authority’s measures due the coronavirus prevention and that would be done on a case by case basis.
She urged the Shipping Lines to consider similar initiatives when it comes to demurrages.
“We are all in the port community so once things like these come upwe have to all rally together. Right now we all have to make sacrifices and so we will be talking to our stakeholders, the shipping lines to look at their demurrages.”
Work Paperless and comply with rules
Both Mohammed Samara and the Sector Commander of Customs touted that the Tema Port operates a very reliable paperless systems and port users should take advantage of that and function remotely to prevent physical human to human contacts.
The various industry players called on the assistance and compliance by the general public in all measures deployed at the ports so that they can collectively complement the country’s effort to end the spread of the pandemic.
“To contain the spread, we need everybody on board. As we are sensitizing our officers, all other stakeholders must do same. When you come to us to do business, you must apply by our action points,” the Assistant Commissioner advised.