As expected, all the government agencies and some big operators in the maritime industry embarked on partial shutdown last week, putting the industry on a sleep mode, as fears over the coronavirus heightened.
Global figures for the virus hit 577,000 cases, with 26,500 deaths on Friday, while Nigeria stood at 65 cases and one death, with concerns that the country’s incidents are deliberately under-reported by relevant authorities.
The federal government of Nigeria said it was still working to track over 4,600 contacts, a signal that thousands of citizens may have been infected without being timely tracked.
The coronavirus fears are real across sectors, with the maritime sector hosting the gateway having the biggest fears after the aviation sector. With all international airports and borders closed, the only point of international contact are the seaports, which the Nigeria Ports Authority said the country could not afford to close, just as many other nations.
However, government regulatory agencies and operators have scaled down operations. Apex maritime regulator, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigeria Ports Authority, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and Nigeria’s mega indigenous multiservices and container port operator, SIFAX Group say they have scaled down operations following rising concerns over the Coronavirus.
Also the largest body of licensed Customs brokers, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) announced it had closed its secretariat and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders said it was considering shutting down its office.
NIMASA, Wednesday, directed its staff who had recently travelled to countries with high incidences of COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days and inform the agency Search and Rescue Base (SRBC) Clinic for close monitoring.
In a statement by Isichei Osamgbi, head, Corporate Communications, the agency also directed staff on grade levels 12 and below to work from home in line with the Federal Government’s directive.
The statement read in part, “Following Federal Government’s directives in a memo issued from the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, which stated that all non essential public servants on Grade Level 12 and below should stay and work from home, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) today asked staff of the agency within the category to comply with the directive as a measure to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
“In furtherance to procedures in the prevention of spread of the deadly Coronavirus among staff and external stakeholders of the Agency, the Executive Management led by the Director General, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, further directed all Heads of Departments, Units and Zonal Coordinators to identify some essential staff who will be on duty in their locations on a rotational basis for the next couple of weeks, in order not to totally halt the operations of the Agency until the situation improves.
“Furthermore, all visits to the agency are restricted to Tuesdays and Thursdays between 12noon and 2pm only, for visitors of assistant directors and above. Shipping companies and agents as well as other critical stakeholders who transact with operational departments and units of the Agency, are however, exempted from this condition. The media and others can reach the agency on the various online platforms.”
Meanwhile, indigenous port concenssionaires, SIFAX Group, said in compliance with the social distancing directives of the government in order to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 disease and a reinforcement of our safety protocols, it had scaled down operations across its subsidiaries.
“As a company that operates in the essential services industry, our core operations and technical personnel will be on ground while the non-essential departments will either maintain a skeletal service or work from home.
“For the few staff that will be at work and clients that will visit our business premises, necessary protective gears, thermometer checks, hand sanitisers, gloves and nose masks have been provided to keep them safe while the clinic at our port terminal in Tin Can Island Port, Lagos is open round the clock to attend to any emergencies,” the company said on Thursday.
The mother company of Ports & Cargo Terminals advised customers to contact staffs for any information or enquiries, through the company’s social media platforms and email.
“We urge you all to stay safe and follow all precautions as announced by relevant health authorities,” it concluded.
Uju Nnnabuike, a maritime stakeholder said there is already lull in the maritime industry.
“Of course, we are seeing many customs agents making last minute efforts to clear goods, but those were goods caught up in the coronavirus era. No new importation are being initiated, except, may be aids coming from overseas,” she said.
“With agencies shutting down or scaling down operations, the industry cannot be its real self, but it should not be a shock to anyone. The situation is the same across globe,” she noted.