News 28 Jan, 2014

Benin - Severe Berthing Delays at Cotonou for Rice Vessels

The Club’s Benin correspondents, TCI Africa, have advised that vessels carrying bagged parboiled rice to Cotonou are experiencing serious berthing delays.

In January 2013 the Nigerian government raised the import duty and levy on rice in an effort to stimulate domestic rice production. To circumvent such charges, many traders are now shipping bagged rice destined for Nigeria via Cotonou, transporting it to Nigeria overland thereafter. This has resulted in the amount of bagged rice discharged at Cotonou increasing by almost 800% in the past twelve months.

The situation has been further complicated by reports that the Nigerian government may shortly reduce the import duty and levy in order to stop the illicit rice trade via Benin. Consequently some rice traders appear to be waiting for a decision before committing vessels to a particular port of discharge in the hope of avoiding the transhipment costs completely.

At present, sixteen vessels loaded with bagged rice are at anchor off Cotonou waiting for a berth to become available including an entered vessel which arrived at the beginning of October 2013. According to TCI Africa, rice vessels may expect a berthing delay of over two months with little prospect of the situation improving in the immediate future. Since bagged rice is a perishable cargo, the possibility that it may deteriorate if it remains on board for a prolonged period cannot be ruled out.

In practice there is very little a vessel can do to preserve the condition of a bagged rice cargo other than ensuring that best practice ventilation procedures are followed until the cargo is eventually discharged. Guidance on this issue can be found in the Club’s Loss Prevention Bulletin, “Cargo Ventilation and Precautions to Minimise Sweat”. Detailed ventilation records should be maintained, including the ventilation rule used and the reasoning for any periods when ventilation was suspended. Such information may prove to be vital in the event of any subsequent claims for cargo deterioration.

In addition, and if safe and practical to do so, partially opening hatch covers while at anchor off Cotonou may aid the ventilation of the cargo. If conditions permit, this practice may also be continued during the hours of darkness. However, if the hatch covers are opened for this purpose, a close eye should be kept on the weather to ensure that they can be closed again in good time if rain looks likely. Moreover, when hatch covers are opened after a period of rain, care must be taken to ensure no water drains on to the cargo below.

The prevailing congestion in Cotonou and other West African ports may result in vessels destined for the region being ordered by charterers to wait at anchorages close to the load port, en route or to drift in open waters. Members may wish to ensure that when fixing they address this possibility through adequate waiting clauses in the charterparty appropriately allocating the time, cost and risk.

Members requiring further guidance should contact the Loss Prevention department.