Players in Ghana’s ports and maritime industry have stated that the current restrictions due to the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus presents an opportunity for the industry to deepen its paperless systems in the port clearance chain.
“I think this has been a big lesson for all of us. Hitherto, we always want to work on site. It has given us the test of time to be able to look at how we can polish our paperless systems,” Garvin Amarvie, the Corporate Monitoring Manager of GPHA said.
“This is a very good time for us to deepen the paperless process and we have to review our processes also,” Adam Imoru Ayarna, a Council Member of the Ship Owners and Agents Association of Ghana, added.
Speaking on Eye on Port’s panel discussion on the Effects of the Temporary Restrictions on Port Clearance Operations in Ghana, representatives of the key agencies in Ghana’s port clearance chain including the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, the Customs Division of GRA, the Association of Customs House Agents of Ghana, and the Ship Owners and Agents Association of Ghana, all acknowledged the value of having a paperless system in the port and outlined how their various outfits are currently making use of electronic platforms in their transactions and operations.
“Paperless is more important to us even now than ever. It has been very useful. You can easily sit in the comfort of your home, and do the processes,” Yaw Kyei, President of ACHAG indicated.
“When the paperless process started we took it quite seriously. Prior to that we had a few of our activities on the e-platforms. To the best of the ability of the shipping lines, we have continued with that skeleton style,” Adam Imoru Ayarna, SOAAG disclosed.
The industry players however, did not fail to concede that there has been a general reduction in cargo volumes in the first quarter of the year citing the coronavirus pandemic, a major factor.
“The numbers are okay. But let me say that even prior to the lockdown the shipping lines had been generally hit. Also, you have to note that the Chinese new year. Cargo volumes from Asia are down. We won’t say the volumes from Europe are what we expect. They have dropped, but they are okay,” the SOAAG rep revealed.
Temporary COVID-19 Permits
The Representatives of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority as well as the Customs Division of GRA, who are the lead institutions in the Port community, revealed that currently their outfits are issuing temporary permits to individuals and companies who have critical business to do in the port in order to ensure there is significant reduction of people who operate within the port environment although port operations are exempted from the current restrictions on movements in Ghana.
“What we have in place is that, we have put a template on our website for the various categories of port users so what we want people to do is to go to that site and if you have work to do, download your area of operations, complete the form, and we would grant you the access,” GPHA’s Corporate Monitoring Manager said.
“When it comes to examinations, we need the physical presence of agents or the owners to come so that containers would be opened and therefore the pass enables us to know those who have work to do at the port,” the Tema Sector Commander, Joseph Adu Kyei added.
Flawed Permit System
But Yaw Kyei, President of the Association of Customs House Agents of Ghana, while commending the initiative also pointed out some flaws in the temporary permit system especially on the part of customs including how insufficient the number of passes has been for members of his outfit to conduct business smoothly among other things.
“The first ones he gave us were only for two days. Now the issue is that, how do we move from our house to the port to work. And they gave us about two passes for every company, that is not enough.”
He even indicated that the rush period to obtain these passes created a level of disorder at the customs long room in Tema which according to him, defeated the concept of social distancing altogether.
He revealed that his outfit would have preferred to continue to use their agency cards and permanent port access cards to work, since they are sufficient identifications for them to work with. According to him this would avoid all the inefficiencies associated with the new temporary pass system.
“We have the various association cards, we have GPHA ID cards and MPS ID cards, which are even biometric so taught that they were more authentic while ours served as a backup. So we discussed with them that why don’t you let us move from various homes with these ID cards to the operational areas,” he lamented.
The President of ACHAG emphasized that such challenges emerge from the mistake of not including freight forwarders in the decision making process of contingencies during this period of coronavirus prevention. He called for some revision of the decisions to properly cover freight forwarders who form a critical part of the port clearance processes.
“The problem is that when all these things were being planned, freight forwarders were all excluded. We believe that when these things come, let us all come together to draw a masterplan for implementation. Immediately some of us are excluded, the implementation becomes very difficult, because we play a very critical role in these processes, and without us government revenue would definitely suffer.”
The Tema Sector Commander of Customs, disagreed with Yaw Kyei’s submission saying the current measures are sufficient as the ultimate goal is to reduce human physical presence at the port as much as possible.
“I cannot go beyond the limit that has been given me. These are all checks to reduce movement of people so that people can lockdown in their homes so that only those who have work to do at the port gain access.”
Addressing the issue of the distance of some port users to his office to obtain these permits, he clarified that these permits can be issued to port users who have legitimate business to do during this period of restricted movements at every Sector Commander’s office countrywide.
“Wherever you are, just go to the customs office and the Sector Commander would look at your situation and issue you a pass where need be,” he indicated.
He also called on security agencies including the police and military regulating movements on the various corridors in the country to grant access to those with permits and that includes trucks carting goods to transit destinations.
Garvin Amarvie, the Corporate Monitoring Manager of the Ghana Ports Harbours Authority, revealed that due its certification with the International Organisation of Standardization, GPHA quickly activated its emergency response procedures as soon as the Authority got news of the COVID 19 pandemic.
The Corporate Monitoring Manager of GPHA disclosed that crew changeovers at Ghana’s ports are currently experiencing strict restrictions to avoid the importation of coronavirus into the country.
“The last time the Philippinos were handed over to our port security manager, to make sure that their movement was straight on board, from the airport,” he cited.
Adam Imoru Ayarna, a Council Member of the Ship Owners and Agents Association, said considerations would be made on a case by case basis by the various Shipping Lines so that some importers would not take undue advantage of demurrage waivers.
He therefore encouraged clients to be in effective constant communications with the Shipping Lines when they face difficulties in clearing their cargoes.
“If for whatever reason your client, at the end of the supply chain cannot receive the goods, it is imperative, that either your client, the importer, makes contact with the shipping lines, and inform them of their difficulty so that when all this is over and we are talking about demurrage or whatever charges we can come to an amicable solution.”
The industry players collectively urged all port users to abide by health and security protocols and make use of paperless systems at their disposal to transact business, while the country strives to fight the spread of the coronavirus.