Last week, on the Eye on Port live interactive platform on national television, Fred Asiedu Dartey, Head of Freights and Logistics at the Ghana Shippers’ Authority and Eddy Akrong, a Council Member of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders outlined some challenges in doing business with shipping lines.
These included, firstly, shipping lines assuming the autonomy to peg their own exchange rates.
Secondly, shipping lines failing to work on weekends even though Ghana’s Port operates 24 hours and 7 days yet the Shipping Lines charge demurrage which includes weekends. Thirdly, Eddy Akrong criticised the current system where Shipping Lines only release cargo after customs compliance has been done.
These according to the two, is making it expensive for importers to clear their cargoes and adding to the increasing cost of doing business.
Eye on Port has for the past two weeks, through its live panel discussion been looking at the role of shipping lines in the ease of doing business at the Ports of Ghana.
This week, on the same platform, Frank Ebow Brown, Legal, Licensing and Permits Manager at Meridian Ports Services, expressed that since the port terminal opens 24 hours of everyday of the week, it will be in the best interest of the port business chain, if shipping lines open on weekends saying it will align all port processes and bring ease to importers.
“We believe that it would be a good thing to align all working times, so that all parties are able to work together,” he said.
He however added, “but they are private entities and look at the profitability. But I am clear in my mind that when there is a lot of business they will find it profitable to work 24/7.”
Frank Ebow Brown also entreated importers or their clearing agents to take advantage of the 24/7 service available at the Tema Port, so that there is decongestion of the peak periods of 10am – 8pm on weekdays.
He said importers can take advantage of the truck appointment systems available to enable the timely retrieval of cargoes from the cargo terminals.
Decoupling customs compliance
Eddy Akrong, a council member of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, maintained however that, if shipping line release is decoupled from customs compliance there would be quicker clearance of cargo, and work on weekends would be more enticing for clearing agents because shipping line release would have been done separately from customs compliance.
“Like I said emphatically, if we decouple this, if I have my bill of laden today and I walk to the shipping line, I could get my release while I am doing my compliance. When compliance is done, I start work at any time. Because all of the processes we do on the cargo clearance system, is something I can do on my bed at night or Sunday morning. When that is done, that issue of work not starting early would be resolved,” he explained.
He said it is the desire of the every clearing agent to get goods cleared on time.
“My business is hinged on me getting the goods to the customer, so I can get paid. Why would I want to stay at home, and decide I do not want to work early?”
He said when shipping line release is untied from customs compliance which causes delay, cost incurred in terms of demurrage accrued on cargoes would be reduced.
Interest on Refunds
Eddy Akrong also reiterated the issue of the issuing of refunds made on deposits after containers have been used by importers, which according to him is not timely, and consequently has an adverse effect on importers whose monies may lock up in the deposits. He proposed that, shipping lines, when unable to refund swiftly, should apply interests like they do for demurrage when importers do not return containers on time.
“There should be an interest situation, where the money I left with you should be accruing some interests because the money is in your account.”
On the charges of the shipping lines, he called for regulation in the form of a governance structure that would make sure unjustifiable charges imposed by shipping lines are eliminated.
“If there is no regulation then that is a recipe for chaos because somebody can jump to any figure that he wants. And what is worse is, once you have used that line, you are stuck with them. There has to be a certain supremo who would look down and regulate the whole spectrum. GRA has a role to play. GMA also has its role to play,” he articulated.
He disclosed that some shipping lines pre-charge a cleaning fee, to take care of unclean containers used by importers. He called for refunds of the cleaning fee on the containers which are returned in good condition.
Dialogue the way forward?
However, Adam Imoru Ayarna, Executive Member of the Ship Owners and Agents Association of Ghana, maintained that policies guiding these charges are agreed upon by importers, so there is nothing illegal with its existence.
He said the shipping lines value the inputs of their customers, so importers or their representatives, who are the clearing agents, should commit to dialoguing with shipping lines to resolve some of these issues.
“We are here to resolve issues, so what we should do is contact the agents to address these issues as business people in the same industry. At the end of the day the customs house agent is acting in the interest of the customer who has an agreement with the shipping line. It is upon the shipping line to abide by that agreement,” he expressed.
According to Imoru Ayarna, this is far better than a call for a regulatory body interfering with the business relations of shipping lines and importers.
“I am worried why, a service provider’s dealings with its customers would be regulated,” he said.
Addressing the fact that shipping lines apply varying exchange rates, and whether they have to reconcile their rates with that of the Bank of Ghana, Mr. Imoru Ayarna questioned the illegality of the act.
He continued by insisting that if there is no illegality, then dialogue should be the way to come to a favourable resolution.