Shippers to ask Beijing to act on 'unfair' surcharges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 January, 2011, 12:00am

Shipper groups in Hong Kong and the mainland plan to lobby Beijing over what they say are unfair and costly surcharges levied by container shipping lines on freight shipments.

This comes as Maersk, the world's largest container line, plans to raise fees and charges from today for cargo being shipped from the mainland and Hong Kong.

Soren Karas, head of South China for Maersk Line, said it was catching up with other lines, such as the Tung-family-controlled Orient Overseas Container Line, which revised its surcharges up to 10 months earlier.

But Willy Lin, chairman of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council, said the level of fees and surcharges imposed by shipping lines was 'totally unjust and unfair' and did not reflect the actual cost of providing services.

As a result, the Hong Kong and mainland shippers' bodies, which represent manufacturers and suppliers, will commission a report looking at the fees and surcharges levied by container shipping lines and assess whether they are justified.

Lin hoped the report would be 'up and running by the end of January' and the shippers' groups would be able to make their submissions to the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Communications around Lunar New Year.

Plans to involve the two ministries follow a meeting two weeks ago between shippers groups in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and the mainland 'that looked at various issues including what costs shippers have to bear', Lin said. He said that under the mainland's competition law, shipping lines had to consult shippers about proposed fee increases but, in reality, carriers might only give a day's notice for a fee change.

Lin said shippers were not averse to paying surcharges and terminal handling charges, but pointed out that any increase 'has to be very transparent'.

Shippers recognised shipping lines needed to make money to invest in new vessels and equipment and they 'needed shipping lines to deliver their goods'.

'We do not see shipping lines as the enemy,' he added.

But Lin also said while everybody realised costs were increasing, he wondered 'how much is justified?'

The surcharges typically levied by shipping lines include fees for altering documents, installing high-security door seals, cleaning containers and the late collection of shipment documents. Lin's comments coincided with the imposition of a surcharge from today by carriers such as Cosco Container Lines, Maersk Line and French carrier CMA CGM on each bill of lading for all shipments to countries in the European Union.

The surcharge, which varies between US$25 and US$30 depending on the shipping line, is intended to recover the cost to shipping lines of complying with EU customs regulations which demand carriers supply detailed information on freight shipments 24 hours before vessels sail.

Carriers said the regulation would create additional costs and have an impact on their day-to-day operations and administration.

Outlining the changes in Maersk's fee structure from today, Karas said the carrier would alter terminal handling charges and eight fees levied on shippers.

These included the documentation fee on each bill of lading, which would rise from 150 yuan to 200 yuan. A 500 yuan export service charge on each bill of lading was also to be levied by Maersk for the first time. He said terminal handling charges for a 40 foot (12.2 metre) container exported from South China to Europe and the Mediterranean would rise from 1,780 yuan to 1,850 yuan. But charges for a 40 foot container exported to Latin America would surge from 750 yuan to 1,850 yuan.

Justifying the large increase, Karas said it would bring Maersk's terminal handling charge for the Latin American trade into line with other carriers. Chilean carrier, CSAV, levied a handling charge of US$270 (1,780 yuan).

Karas added that other carriers had a similar level of terminal handling charges on cargo from South China to Europe.

Stephen Ng Siu-kow, director of corporate planning at OOCL, confirmed the carrier levied a fee of 1,845 yuan on a 40 foot container to Europe or North America from South China.

Bigger bills

The surcharge, in US dollars, on each bill of lading for shipment to the EU is up to: $30