Importers to get refund as gov’t and shipping lines settle waiver differences

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Importers who were troubled due to the refusal of shipping companies to waive demurrage/detention charges as requested by the Ghana Shippers Authority (GSA) from March 30, 2020 to April 19, 2020 can now heave a sigh of relief as the industry regulator has concluded consultations with other stakeholders to help importers.

The authority, after meetings with the shipping companies through their umbrella-body the Ship Owners and Agents Association (SOAAG), the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and the Meridian Port Services (MPS), has come to a consensus with the shipping companies to waive demurrage/detention and rent charges for importers from March 30, 2020 to April 19, 2020 – which was the partial lockdown period for Greater Accra, Kasoa and Greater Kumasi.

The shipping companies had earlier refused to offer the waiver as they decried lack of consultation and an imposition of the directive on them. A virtual consultative meeting between the GSA and stakeholders saw the shipping companies raise issues on the tone of the letter from the GSA directing them waive the charges.

The GSA however entreated the stakeholders to help in ameliorating the plight of importers due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown which brought business operations to a standstill, and institute measure to waive the charges. After the meeting, another letter was issued to the stakeholders requesting the waiver.

“After a lengthy but healthy discourse at our meeting, we wish to make explicit the position that our earlier communication was not an imposition but rather a request for you to support the efforts of government in dealing with the COVID-19 scourge. We do hope that this clarification will elicit your corporation, and more importantly facilitate the decision by your principals on the request,” the new letter said.

It continued by saying: “There is no doubt that our collective humanity is at stake in this COVID-19 scourge. We are therefore seeking your support to lessen the burden of unintended consequences from the COVID-19-induced restrictions on shippers in Ghana”.

The shipping companies have responded favourably – with the biggest shipping company in the country, Maersk, issuing a customer advisory indicating that it is implementing the request from the GSA.

The advisory read: “We know that despite the tailored solutions we provided to our customers, unfortunately, some of you might still have suffered impacts on your business as direct or indirect effects of the COVID-19 situation. And as a key member in the value chain, Maersk always wants to support our customers and ensure a sustainable and amicable approach; for that reason, we are willing to offer all customers that are still facing challenges to clear their containers which arrived during the period.

“For all cargo that arrived during the period from March 30 to April 19, 2020 and is still not cleared, demurrage days will start counting only from April 20, 2020. Normal Free-time agreements will then apply from that date. This effectively gives customers time after the restriction is lifted to obtain finance for undertaking the clearance process.”

Also, the B&FT has gathered that the Meridian Port Services has reconfigured its system to pay refunds to importers who were charged rent delays during the said period.

Head of Freight and Logistics Department of the GSAFred AsieduDartey, told the B&FT in an interview: “We have settled our differences and with the communication from a company like Maersk; we are hopeful and believe that all the other shipping companies will follow suit. This is a sacrifice for the nation, and we have just put across a humble request for all stakeholders to help the COVID-19 fight”.

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