Delays, wasted fees reported in Aqaba customs yards

(Photos: Arij)
Vessels laden with cargo bobble in the sea, sending waves crashing against the shore in the Red Sea Port of Aqaba, where ships, one-by-one, dock at the pier.اضافة اعلان

Once their cargo is loaded onto trucks and arrives at Yard 4 for customs inspection, long delays and hefty fees are expected.

Often, the process takes several days to clear customs, which means wasted money on docking fees and consumed energy for truck drivers and firms eagerly awaiting their cargo to arrive at its final destination.

“I don’t get paid for the time I spend waiting for the cargo to clear customs,’’ said truck driver Mae’n Rawashdeh.

The Aqaba Company for Ports Operation and Management, which operates Yard 4, allows trucks into a waiting area for free in the first 24 hours. If longer, a “storage fee” of JD5–20 for each container is levied per day for a period of seven days.

The fee varies based on the type and size of the container and is charged to clearance companies, even if the trucks were not responsible for the delay.

Truck driver Firas Ibrahim complained that workers are usually unavailable at the site, which causes another delay for cargo handling.

“I had the container opened at 8:00 am, the inspector finished inspecting it four hours later, but there were no workers to reload the cargo back in the container,’’ he said.

“I ended up waiting more than four hours,” he complained.

Mohammad Jalal, chairman of the Aqaba Clearance Companies owners committee, attributed the inspection delays to “insufficient customs ramps”.

Yard 4 has 64 ramps, where approximately 350 containers are inspected every day. There is also 160 workers in the vicinity who unload containers and put them onto a belt for X-ray examination

Jalal said: “In normal situations, the inspection process needs more than six hours, therefore the waiting period might last days.”

Dheif-Allah Abu-Aqoula, head of the syndicate for Aqaba Clearance Companies in Jordan, asserted the need for a sufficient number of trained workers to deal with fragile and expensive goods.

He said workers who unload trucks “deliberately procrastinate” and “won’t hesitate to ask for extra payments in the form of gratuities, which could reach JD40, if they were asked to rush to complete their task.”

Delays Due to customs Inspection

Truck driver Mohammad, who insisted to be identified only by his first name, said the delays are partly caused by unintended customs faults. In one incident, he explained, Customs employees were forced to spend seven hours inspecting goods manually after a malfunctioning X-ray machine showed what was interpreted as suspicious cargo.

“This issue closed the ramp for 10 hours at least,” he said.

Jalal, chairman of the Aqaba Clearance Companies owners committee, said the delays are exacerbated by customs’ inspection procedures. He explained that customs adopted a gradual approach, which allows officers to inspect “small specimen” in shipments and expand the search, if any violation was discovered.

“While it’s true that out of every 1,000 containers, there’s about 23 that might contain ‘suspicious’ merchandise, each inspection though causes the ramps to close for about twelve hours,” he said.

Abu-Aqoula, the head of the syndicate for Aqaba Clearance Companies in Jordan, said that “all containers pass through an X-ray machine to detect contraband, and the result of the scan usually determines the lane that they should go to afterwards.”

Yard 4 has three lanes: The Red Lane means that inspection goods and papers is mandatory. The Yellow Lane means that documents should be verified before the cargo is processed through. The third is the Green Lane, which means that neither the goods, nor the documents need further inspection.

Abu-Aqoula blamed the delays on the process of re-directing cargo containers from the yellow and green to the red lane.  Often, he added, there is a staff shortage for the inspection, unloading and reloading processes.

 “Ninety-nine percent of the goods that are transferred for further inspection after X-ray do not have any defects,” he said.  Sometimes, there is concern over faulty goods stacking, he added.

The solution would be to inspect the goods at the customs centers, as this would facilitate the smooth movement of goods and limit the overall delays.

Importantly, he added, there must be efforts to “streamline the officials” authorized to request further inspection of goods. He noted that the process also involves officials from the Standards and Metrology Organization, the Jordan Food and Drug Administration, among others.

Col.  Ahmad Al-Akalik, director of the Aqaba Customs authority, said that his main task revolves around clearing cargo so that it would proceed to its destination without delay.

But he added: “The problem is that Aqaba is a border point and a customs clearance center, therefore, goods that pass through are either transiting or entering Jordan, and both categories must be inspected.”

Akalik revealed that the Customs authority has taken many steps to tackle delays, such as “minimizing the attention paid for transiting goods, while speeding up inspection of goods bound for Amman or Sahab customs clearance centers, hence there’s no need for such goods to be transferred to Yard 4.”

To achieve this, customs urged the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) to increase the number of handling staff, provided that loading and unloading workers tenders must be conducted through an external supplier specialized in cargo handling operations.

Additionally, transit goods must exit automatically if their content need not be declared.

According to Akalik, customs reduced to 2 percent their inspection criteria on transit goods, while incoming goods are subject to 30 percent of such set criteria.

Mahmoud Khleifat, a Commissioner of Revenue and Customs at ASEZA between 2015 and 2022, objected to the current rise to 35 percent of goods inspected in Aqaba.

He said that “contravened” ASEZA’s law, which sets inspection at a maximum of 15 percent, which is “clearly responsible for the current bottle-neck problems”.

Khleifat wondered “What’s the benefit of inspecting goods in Aqaba that are destined to the Iraqi market? Transit goods should not be inspected to begin with, and the path that transit containers must take can simply be tracked electronically to ensure the process is secure enough.”

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