Nigeria Halts Cargo Arrivals for Cosco and Maersk

Traffic on the road to Apapa (Sunny Ebinyasi Ugo / Twitter)

Published Jul 20, 2018 5:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Operations at Nigeria's main container terminals and their environs have experienced significant disruption over the past week, with regulators denying access to two major ocean carriers and truckers blocking port access freeways. 

On July 14, the Nigerian Port Authority suspended the local operations of Maersk Line, Cosco Shipping, Africa Port Services and Lagos & Niger Shipping Agencies for ten days over an alleged failure to provide holding space for empties. The NPA asserted that a shortage of storage bays was to blame for the notorious, severe truck traffic congestion around the Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island, a longstanding problem for Lagos residents.

“The suspension, follows the Authority’s checks, which revealed that the four companies have failed to fully comply with the directive to acquire and operate holding bays as they have either failed to utilise their holding bays at all or do not have adequate capacitys," NPA alleged. 

In addition, NPA accused the carriers of making Nigeria a "dumping ground" for empties due to the nation's imbalance of trade. Empty containers that remain in the destination country are often resold for other economic purposes, and in the U.S. they are frequently redeployed for storage, housing, mobile offices and other uses.

In a statement, Maersk's Nigerian subsidiary acknowleged that empties were part of the port's traffic problem. "With limited infrastructure and other alternatives for evacuation of imports, return of empties, and return of full exports, it is challenging for these containers to be adequately handled, which results in the congestion of the access roads,” Maersk Nigeria Limited said. 

However, the firm says that it operates within compliance, and that it has adequate storage. "It is [misguided] for NPA to suspend Maersk Nigeria Limited for failing to acquire and operate holding bays for empty containers, as Maersk Nigeria Limited operates four holding bays within the Lagos environ with a storage capacity of 8,150 TEUs, which is more than 50 per cent of the discharge average," the statement said. 

In a notice to customers, Maersk said that it would be forced to hold cargo from discharge at Tin Can, Onne and Apapa. It listed 19 vessels that would be affected by the halt, including many with multi-day schedule delays. 

The halt has not led to an immediate improvement in traffic conditions around the port. Nigerian media report that drayage trucks and truck tankers have parked on most of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, creating gridlock for many Lagos residents. Contributing factors reportedly include an industrial action and slowdown at the Apapa port; harsh road conditions on the highway, with broken pavement and potholes; construction activity on the roadway; and informal parking by truckers waiting to enter the terminals. Local officials said Friday that they will deploy hundreds of policemen to move trucks off the expressway to designated parking areas.