Some refrigerated containers containing frozen food products and pharmaceuticals have been sitting plugged in at Tema Port’s reefer (refrigerated) terminal for over 200 days, raising fears of the products’ quality being compromised and posing a health risk if finally discharged and marketed.
The containers mostly contain imported poultry, meat and pharmaceuticals, and the reason for the holdup is the inability of importers to clear the cargo and, in some cases, Custom’s inability to auction cargo which has been declared auctionable.
The situation is such that new vessels with reefer goods cannot discharge goods due to limited space at the reefer terminal for plugging in — which describes the process of connecting a container to a power supply source to keep its contents refrigerated.
Adam Imoru Ayarna, Vice President of the Shipowners and Agents Association (SOAAG) who spoke to the B&FT on the issue described the situation as “very alarming to say the least” because of the health implications to the end consumer should these goods finally find their way onto the market.
“In the case of meat and poultry, these products are slaughtered and frozen for days before they are eventually packed onto the vessel, which then takes months to arrive at our ports. So to keep them refrigerated for this number of days is unhealthy.
“What is more worrying is that new vessels with reefer goods cannot berth because the old containers have not been unplugged.
Last year, shipping lines were forced to return reefer goods to their places of origin or they had to keep them at sea till there was space for plugging in, at their own cost.
Ideally, a reefer container should be cleared by its owner within seven days of its arrival, failing which demurrage costs are charged on the importer by the shipping line.
Some importers enjoy 21 days free demurrage, but if the container is not Custom-cleared within one month of discharge, it is declared auctionable.
Mr. Ayarna said about 60 percent of reefer goods imported to the Tema port stay for a minimum of 30 days before they are eventually cleared by the agent or consignee.
When containers are plugged in for a long period, shipping lines incur losses because their containers are not available to be refilled to ship other goods.
Sometimes, also, the frozen products may become rotten or damaged and the shipping lines have to bear the cost of destroying the goods in order to get their containers back.
The solution, Mr. Ayarna said is for Customs to ensure that goods’, that must be auctioned are discharged on time’-to minimise congestion, curtail losses and reduce health risks.
Container traffic through the Tema Port has been rising steadily as the country’s economy continues to grow and oil activities expand. In 2013 container traffic measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) rose 2 percent to 841,989 TEU. In the five years prior to 2013, traffic increased by almost 10 percent annually.