Caribbean shipping and port fees in the time of COVID-19
EDITOR: As the World struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shipping Industry is struggling as well. In the Caribbean, full containers of non-essential cargo are arriving daily and are sitting uncleared in ports. They cannot be cleared as Governments have restricted the movements of workers; closed non-essential businesses and have stopped clearance of non-essential cargo.
Each container has specified delay times before Port excess storage fees and the Shipping Line’s Demurrage/Detention daily fees start being due. Luckily the majority of Caribbean Ports are owned by their Governments who are mostly waiving the Ports’ excess storage fees.
Thankfully it seems as though all of the Shipping Lines whose business bases are the Caribbean Basin routes have willingly agreed to waive the demurrage fees for containers sitting at Ports which cannot be cleared because of the lockdown and quarantine measures implemented due to the pandemic.
More doubtful and mostly untested as yet, is the willingness of the other more International Shipping Lines to waive their demurrage charges to Caribbean businesses. Businesses are at the mercy of these lines as the payment of demurrage cannot be avoided even in these unprecedented circumstances of lock downs and quarantine, unless; it was specifically negotiated in the shipping contract (bill of lading); this would be a very rare almost unheard- of situation for normal commercial container shipping.
The Maxim in Maritime Courts “Once on demurrage always on demurrage” shows the futility in challenging demurrage charges.
Some of the Major International Lines have been accommodating American and Asian businesses by offering off-port storage facilities free of cost; allowing those businesses to avoid excess Port fees, as most of those Ports are operated by the private sector.
Let’s hope similar accommodations can be made by the International Lines in conjunction with our Ports for those Caribbean businesses with full container loads sitting on our docks over the last month, and for those being offloaded daily.