Bahrain port fees dispute may hit sea trade
Manama, August 22, 2014
Port authorities in Bahrain have allegedly refused to release cargo containers belonging to nine major shipping companies in a dispute over unpaid fees.
APM Terminals (APMT), the operator of Khalifa Bin Salman Port (KBSP), has issued a warning to the shipping companies to pay outstanding charges on empty containers at the port, which range between BD5,000 ($13,182) and BD80,000, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
Companies are allowed to store their empty containers at the port for 10 days before a tax is imposed, however, businessmen claim they had an agreement with officials to hold the boxes depending on availability of space without enforcing additional charges.
They warned that trade involving aluminium, steel, manufactured products and other goods could be affected by the decision.
Trans-Continental Shipping managing director Yousuf Al Rayes said they were given a one-week deadline, which will end on Sunday, to pay the outstanding fees.
"We cannot afford to pay these huge amounts suddenly as we will have to close down our business, which is run on marginal commissions on exports," he told the GDN.
"These are charges from last year, which have resulted due to system errors of APMT.
"We are Non-Vessel Operating Carriers (NVOCs) which transport in cargo boxes to and from Bahrain through feeder operators, who handle these cargoes from us."
Other companies affected are Celerity Shipping and Forwarding, Pan Gulf Logistics, Al Mulla Logistics, International Agencies, Onyx Shipping Agencies, Clarion Shipping Services, United Arab Shipping Company and Dilmun Shipping Agency.
Al Rayes said negotiations were ongoing with port authorities since last year to pay the outstanding bills in instalments.
He explained that there was no change in operations and the companies were still storing their containers at the port until a decision was made.
"Once the boxes are full it is the consignee's responsibility, while when they are empty it is ours and it goes back to the port storage," he said.
"The first 10 days are free of charge and later they charge us as per port tariffs.
"However, when APMT took over the port, they agreed to release the containers on FIFO (first in first out) basis - which means they will release the boxes as and when the empty boxes reach the port to the respective agents, based on the storage space availability.
"This was going smoothly, except for some odd events where we were charged extra, but was cleared soon and we used to get refunds.
"Since last year we haven't heard from APMT on any storage charges, which we assumed was business running smooth at the terminal.
"However, suddenly they sent us invoices for pending charges from last year, which amounted to thousands of dinars.
"We are ready to pay every fils that belongs to the terminal, provided they accept that the arrears resulted from a technical glitch at their end.
"They should also give us time and allow us to pay in instalments.
"They should realise that this is past account and some agencies have even finished contracts with us now and it is impossible to claim money from them."
Pan Gulf Logistics managing director Mohammed Khalid Ashoor said the companies could face bankruptcy if APMT carries out its threats.
"If this decision of the APMT is enforced then the NVOCs will have no other choice but to close down and we will be declared bankrupt," he said.
"Hundreds of Bahrainis employed in our companies as well as those in the customs and clearance will be without jobs.
"Bahrain is at a juncture where we are trying to promote trade and such an irresponsible act from APMT will not help."
A spokesman for APM Terminals declined to comment when contacted by the GDN yesterday, while the Transportation Ministry said it would respond after the weekend. - TradeArabia News Service