Damaged Customs scanner drives Penang hauliers to action
North Butterworth Container Terminal

Average container handling time has nearly doubled since the machine broke down last week

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / Graphic By TMR

A scanning machine breakdown at the North Butterworth Container Terminal has made a bad situation worse for hauliers at one of the country’s busiest ports.

The machine, which is one of two operating at the port, broke down last Thursday and has added hours to the wait for Customs clearance on containers entering the country.

Hauliers, who have been unhappy at the 100% scanning since it was introduced earlier this year because it created a bottleneck that drove operating costs up, have now threatened to take industrial action if the problem is not resolved soon.

Association of Malaysian Hauliers northern region chairman R Amaiappan said the average container handling time has nearly doubled since the machine broke down last week after a prime mover crashed into it.

“There is one scanning machine left at the port, and the Customs insists on a 100% check. This is causing massive delays and is affecting our business operations.

“We’ve had many discussions with the government on the system but there has been no improvement. The only thing left to do is for the drivers to go on strike,” Amaiappan told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

He said Penang Port authorities have been informed of the strike which will see some of the association’s 45 members blocking the entrance of the terminal. Penang Port could not be contacted for comment late yesterday.

Currently, all containers alighting in Penang have to be scanned by two machines installed at the port’s entry and exit points to check for contrabands.

However, the practice has resulted in a bottleneck that has extended the clearance time from 26 minutes to 44 minutes, official data from Penang Port showed.

Amaiappan said the recent system failure has further increased the clearance time to nearly two hours.

“Why must there be a 100% check in Penang when in Port Klang, they have the option to do selective scanning?

“The check there is done very fast, within the 30-minute in and out standard,” he said.

Amaiappan claimed that hauliers had to incur additional costs for demurrage and storage charges, as well as driver’s incentive due to the longer wait.

Royal Malaysian Customs Department DG Datuk Subromaniam Tholasy told TMR in August that there were plans to introduce time slots to address the hold up for container clearance at the terminal.

He did not give a timeframe as to when the time slots would be implemented, but confirmed the proposal was being seriously considered.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Productivity Corp (MPC), a unit under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, has also been called to review how containers are being scanned in Penang.

MPC DG Datuk Mohd Razali Hussain said although the use of the scanners have successfully blocked smuggling and tax evasion of cargo at the port, such measures must also take into account the overall operations of the port.

“If the measures affect operations negatively, it will not give us any benefit. In this case, the (scanning) has slowed down the clearance process. Imagine if all ports were to do the same, it would create many other issues,” he said.

Mohd Razali said to improve the situation in Penang, containers could be selected randomly or based on high-risk evaluation, as commonly practised at other ports around the world.

In May last year, two non-intrusive instrument scanners worth RM24 million were fitted at the North Butterworth Container Terminal. The scanners were activated in September.

The use of the scanners had allowed the Customs to foil over 6,000 smuggling and tax evasion cases in 2016, seizing items worth approximately RM425 million.