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Vietnamese business associations are working to reclaim the port congestion surcharges (PCS) they have had to pay to foreign shipping firms over the last month.

Businesses protest port-congestion-surcharge payments

Truong Dinh Hoe, secretary general of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), said late last week that the association is working with other associations and the Vietnam Maritime Bureau (Vinamarine) to ask foreign shipping firms to pay back the unreasonable surcharges.

Hoe said seafood export companies have had “their pockets picked” with hundreds of millions of dong over the last month.

Though complaining that PCS is an unreasonable kind of fee, import and export companies still had to pay to shipping firms to clear their goods.

Hoe said, in general, import-export companies do not work directly with shipping firms, but through shipping agents and logistics firms. Therefore, they wonder if it is the shipping firms’ policy to impose PCS, or shipping agents “invented” this kind of fee.

“We have to pay too many kinds of fees and charges, and we would like competent agencies to come forward and find out if the fees and charges are legal,” Hoe said.

However, Hoe stressed that even if the fees are deemed “legal” but “unreasonable”, the business community will still struggle getting the money back.

Truong Thuy Lien, director of the Lien Phat Shoes Company, said she has just realized that no state agency has come forward and supervised shipping firms’ operation. As a result, import/export companies are not aware of what they need to pay in surcharge or service fees.

On July 15, Tan Cang Sai Gon, the developer of the Cat Lai Port, announced an adjustment of some charges, aiming to ease congestion at the port.

Shipping firms then exploited the occasion to impose PCS of VND1.05 million per 20 feet container and VND2.4 million per 40 feet container.

According to the HCM City Port Authority, 38 shipping firms announced PCS collections from import/export companies which had goods go through the Cat Lai Port from May 27 – September 5.

On August 5, Tan Cang Sai Gon said the congestion stopped and everything went back to the normal track. However, shipping firms will still continue collecting PCS.

A source from Cat Lai Port said that 9,000-11,000 containers go through the port every day. As such, Vietnamese businesses have lost hundreds of millions of dong for PCS alone.

Lawyer Nguyen Sa Linh from the HCM City-based Gia Linh Law Firm said that shipping firms impose PCS on goods owners only when there is port congestion, resulting in a deadlock.

Linh said this is a civil transaction negotiable between the two parties. Therefore, once the port congestion ends, shipping firms must stop collecting fees.

Lawyer Tran Huu Huynh, chair of the Vietnam International Arbitration Center (VIAC), also thinks that enterprises have the right to sue for damages.

In the latest news, Vinamarine’s Head Nguyen Nhat said a taskforce will be set up to inspect fee collections in Hai Phong, Da Nang and HCM City.

Thanh Mai

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