A Section of stakeholders in the shipping industry has resolved to take legal action as its last resort to compel ship owners and their agents to abolish what they described as illegal fees and charges at the country's ports.
The stakeholders, including the Ghana Chamber of Mines, the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GNCCI), and the Ghana Shippers Council, took the decision at a workshop on abolishing illegal container fees at the country's ports organised by the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) as part of an advocacy programme funded by the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund.
BUSAC is supported by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Representatives of the various institutions were unanimous on the need to also educate their members on the effects of the illegal container fees charged by the ship owners and their agents.
The Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders recently called on the government to regulate the activities of ship owners and their agents in the country to prevent them from charging illegal container fees, and to extend the free demurrage period from seven days to 14 days.
GIFF noted that the Ship Owners and Agents Association of Ghana (SOAAG) now charged between $100 and $150 as container fee.
The GIFF identified nine individual charges, which the ship owners had classified as container fee though it had no legal backing.
Speaking at the workshop, the Tema District Chairman of GIFF, Mr Willie Addae stated that over the past three years, a total of $188 million has been siphoned out of the country as a result of the illegal activities of the ship owners and their agents.
This he said were charges on only container fees, which was an average of $175 per container.
He said in 2003 a total of 305,000 containers were imported to the country amounting to $53.5 million, while in 2004, 354,700 containers were shipped into the country and fetched the ship owners a total of $62 million.
In 2005, a total of 416,400 containers were shipped into the country amounting to $72.8 million as a result of illegal charges of ship owners and their agents.
Mr said what was worrying was that these charges were for services being rendered by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority and also the fact that the amount of money was rather going to individual foreign companies and not to the state.
The Freight and Legal Manager of the Ghana Shippers Council, Mr Emmanuel Arku, said the council was committed to the course of ensuring that the illegal charges of ship owners and agents were abolished.
He said the council had over the past years continued to advance the course of all its stakeholders in a bid to ensure that the shipping sector became more robust.
Mr Arku said a second option of putting pressure on the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) to come out with the Legislative Instrument (LI) that would regulate the shipping industry in the country was also available to them.
For his part, a representative of the GNCCI, Mr Emmanuel Doni Kwami, said there was the need to sensitise members of its association to the illegal charges.
He also suggested that members of GIFF must make efforts at meeting the select committee of Ports and Harbours Authority of Parliament to sensitise them as part of the advocacy programme.
The Vice President of the Greater Accra Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Stephen Owusu, who is also an importer, said the many charges levied on importers were killing many businesses in the country and suggested an educational programme by GIFF to sensitise members of the chamber to the illegal fees.
Story by Boahene Asamoah