* Port operations at a standstill
* Offshore oil terminals operating (Adds comment from Maersk’s oil tanker unit)
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Container group Maersk Line’s ships carrying food and consumer goods are stuck outside Nigeria’s ports as a fourth day of nationwide strikes have brought terminals to a standstill, a senior company official said on Thursday.
Nigerians have taken to the streets across the country to protest against the government’s decision to remove popular fuel subsidies, which more than doubled the price of petrol, shutting banks, shops and schools.
Sonny Dahl, director, West Africa Services at Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container shipping company, said its container ships were unable to enter Nigeria’s ports.
“Everything is at a standstill - there are no operations going on and everything is at a general strike level,” Dahl told Reuters.
Container ships normally bring in much of Nigeria’s consumer goods and also transport foodstuffs.
Dahl said eight of the company’s container ships were affected by disruptions at ports across the country.
“They are carrying consumer goods of various kinds and foodstuffs,” he said.
He said some of the vessels were already anchored outside ports, while others would arrive in one to two days.
“We are consistently evaluating whether we should divert any of them to other ports (outside of Nigeria),” he said.
“For now, we have made a plan until early next week that we wait outside. It’s anyone’s guess when the strike will end.”
Maersk Line, a unit of Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk, said the Nigerian market represented 60 percent of its container ship imports into West Africa.
Nigeria’s main oil union said on Thursday it would aim to shut down the country’s oil and gas production from Sunday.
Oil industry officials doubted unions would be able to stop crude exports completely, but even a minor outage could have a significant impact on the economy.
Shipping sources told Reuters offshore oil terminals were operating as normal on Thursday.
Africa’s largest oil producer relies on crude exports for more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.
“We expect a potential strike in Nigeria and stop for crude oil exports to have an overall negative effect on crude oil transportation - possibly mitigated somewhat by increased export from other producers,” said Klaus Rud Sejling, chief commercial officer with Maersk’s oil tanker division.
“However, we do not expect the effects to be long lasting.”
Sejling said Maersk Tankers did not have any of its vessels in Nigeria at the moment and none were on the way. (Editing by Sophie Hares)