Sunday, February 28, 2021
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BOC prohibits return of empty containers at Manila ports

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is temporarily disallowing return of empty containers at the Port of Manila (POM) and Manila International Container Port (MICP) to address port congestion.

Only empty containers covered by a Special Permit to Load (SPTL) will be allowed entry at the designated areas of POM and MICP, according to Customs Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 13-2019.

The new order also required shipping lines to re-export at their own expense empty containers stored at POM and MICP within 30 days from the ruling’s date of effectivity.

Signed by Customs commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero on February 28 and released on March 7, CMO 13-2019 will take effect upon its posting in BOC bulletin boards with copies furnished to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), terminal operators Asian Terminals Inc. (ATI) and International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), and all shipping lines and/or their agents in the Philippines.

The order noted the POM and MICP “have been continuously saddled with the problem/s of port congestion or high yard utilization.”

It said “port congestion or the high yard utilization at the POM and MICP is due to the unreturned empty containers, overstaying imports stored in the premises of ATI, Port of Manila, and ICTSI at MICP, and the truck ban in the City of Manila.”

In a manifesto attached to CMO 13-2019, several stakeholders’ organizations agreed that the BOC ought to exercise its power under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) to “compel… international  shipping lines to reposition and ship out their empty containers with the same number of discharged import laden containers on the same vessel.”

BOC under Section 1226 (Supervision and Regulation of Third Parties) of the CMTA has the authority to supervise and regulate third parties, which include foreign shipping lines.

The associations that signed the manifesto include the Action Agad Samahan ng mga Personero sa Pantalan, Aduana Business Club, Association of Off-dock CY-CFS of the Philippines, Chamber of Customs Brokers, Inc, Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines, Haulers and Truckers Association in the Watershouth, Philippine Customs Broker Association of the Philippines, Philippine Multimodal Transport and Logistics Association Inc, and Port Users Confederation of the Philippines.

Under CMO 13-2019, the return of empty containers by importers, truckers, customs brokers, and other concerned port stakeholders at the port premises of POM and MICP is “temporarily disallowed until further notice from the BOC.”

Only empty containers with an SPTL can enter the designated areas of POM and MICP.

The SPTL, which can be secured from BOC’s Container Control Division and/or Piers Inspection Division, must contain, among others, description of the empty containers to be returned, its time of loading, and other related information.

Under the new order, empty containers covered by SPTL shall only be moved to the designated areas within 72 hours prior to the scheduled date and time of loading of the carrying vessel for re-exportation abroad.

Empty containers not covered by SPTL, as well as those with SPTL but are arriving beyond the prescribed 72-hour period, may not enter at the designated areas of the two terminals.

Through CMO 13-2019, BOC also ordered shipping lines and/or their agents to coordinate with importers, truckers, customs brokers regarding the return of empty containers to container yards, storage areas or depots.

Shipping lines and/or their agents are directed to specify in the container delivery receipt/order or such other similar documents the container yard or depot where the empty container/s will be returned by the importer, trucker, or customs broker.

Absence of the specifications means the importer, trucker, or customs broker shall return the empty container/s at any storage area of its own choice and the cost of delivery and storage fees, if applicable, shall be at the expense of the shipping line and/or their agents.

Truckers have long asked shipping lines to indicate in the delivery order the designated depot where they (truckers) will deliver the empty containers.

No detention charge

CMO 13-2019 also prohibits shipping lines and/or their agents from imposing detention charges on the importer or customs broker when the latter has returned the empty container within the detention-free period, which is 72 hours from pulling out laden containers at POM and MICP.

No detention charge shall also be imposed if there is no available space at the designated areas (as indicated in the container delivery receipt/order) “for the shipping lines and/or their agents to load their empty containers, and the importer, customs broker, or trucker signified his/her intention to return the same to the shipping lines and/or their agents within the detention-free period.”

30-day stay of empties

All shipping lines and/or their agents shall also see to it that all empty containers currently stored at POM and MICP be re-exported or shipped out, at their own expense, within a period of 30 calendar days from the date of the effectivity of CMO 13-2019.

Empty containers that remain at POM and MICP after the expiration of the 30-day period shall be pulled out and transferred to container yards/depots outside of the two terminals.

The cost of transferring the empty containers from the terminals to offdock container yards/depots, as well as payment of the attendant storage charges and all other relevant fees, “shall be the sole responsibility of the shipping lines and/or their agents.”

In case the empty containers are not re-exported within the 90-day allowable period, BOC shall notify the shipping lines and/or their agents to fill up an informal entry for declaration to be processed in the Formal Entry Division for the computation of duties and taxes and the subsequent payment thereof.

Under Customs rules, if a container stays in the country beyond the 90-day allowed period, it will be considered an importation, with duties and taxes to be paid for by the shipping line.

CMO 13-2019 said failure to file the said entry and to pay the corresponding duties and taxes within the prescribed period shall be the basis for BOC to declare the empty containers as abandoned, and shall be forfeited in favor of government.

CMO 13-2019 noted that the 90-day period shall be reckoned from the date of the discharge of the last cargo from the vessel.

For monitoring purposes, shipping lines and/or their agents must submit to the Container Control Division of POM and MICP not later than every 30th day of the month a summary report of their empty containers returned, specifying when the subject empty containers were returned, as well as the container yards or depots they were returned to.

A penalty of P10,000 per day of delay shall be imposed upon the shipping lines and/or their agents for failure to submit the reports required, including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

Other decongestion measures

Aside from CMO 13-2019, BOC also earlier issued an order for the transfer of empty containers in POM and MICP to the ports of Batangas and Subic. The district collectors of MICP and POM on their own have also been coordinating with ATI, ICTSI, and foreign shipping lines to implement measures to address the high utilization at the two Manila international terminals.

Just on March 6, BOC-POM said POM, also called the Manila South Harbor, is no longer congested with yard utilization down to 64% as of March 4, 2019. BOC-MICP, for its part, said also on the same day that it is working with foreign shipping lines and ICTSI to increase the number of empty containers being re-exported out of MICP to reduce the terminal’s utilization.

For its part, PPA on March 1 directed all importers, consignees, cargo owners, and shippers to withdraw from MICP and Manila South Harbor within 15 days their containers that were cleared by BOC in order to free up space in these ports.

Previously as well, the Association of International Shipping Lines, Alliance of Concerned Truck Owners and Organizations, Container Depot Alliance of the Philippines (CDAP) and ICTSI agreed to undertake immediate measures to alleviate problems with returning empty containers, including for ICTSI to move 5,000 overstaying containers at MICP to an outside bonded warehouse.

CDAP will also identify areas that may be leased to increase empty container storage capacity by 10 hectares, with ICTSI covering the cost of the lease on a market rate basis.

Another agreement, also made between ATI and several international shipping lines last February 19, involves moving out thousands of empty containers via Manila South Harbor in the next few weeks to address the build-up of empty containers in the supply chain. – Roumina Pablo


  1. It looks like the BOC today is heading to the correct direction after many years of being (not playing) blind to the previous policy of mandatory re exportation of the empty container dwelling for 90 days in the country.

    From 90 to 30 days is a very good improvement, in deed. But, why would it takes 15 days to move out the inbound containers from the port ? Why not do it 7 days to free up some more your ports and free up queuing of trucks along Road 10 St. to Delpan Bridge and Intramuros areas.


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