Faster implementation of online system for return of empties eyed


The Association of International Shipping Lines (AISL) plans to fast-track the full implementation of its web-based system to help address issues with the return of empty containers.

AISL president Patrick Ronas, in a phone interview with PortCalls, said the association envisions its GoFast system—an online reservation system that interconnects stakeholders directly involved in empty-container returns to depots, including shipping lines, truckers, customs brokers, and depots—as helping to address issues with empty-container returns.

Ronas said they see automation of empty-container returns as the way forward in solving current issues and providing visibility for stakeholders involved in the process. He added that GoFast will also help ease the problem with capacity of container yards.

He noted that while volumes of imports have grown, the number of container yards, specifically in Metro Manila, has not. The Philippines, being an import-driven country with three imports for every one export, suffers from too many empty containers.

Ronas said they also plan to include in GoFast a slot reservation system that will provide the time for the delivery of an empty container to the container yard or terminal. This, Ronas explained, is to address the issue of trucks arriving at the depot simultaneously and creating a queue that could result in the last truck missing its assigned time and incurring detention.

Since GoFast provides visibility to users, it is seen to help eliminate for stakeholders the extra costs that arise due to unpredictable returns.

These added costs cover phone and text fees when customs brokers need to know the availability of a shipping line delivery order; follow-ups on the availability of a return depot; confirmation on the time for an empty to be returned; and retrieval of the equipment interchange report (EIR) printout from the truck driver. Customs brokers also need to pay P150 to reprint a lost EIR, while some pay a “facilitation fee” of almost P2,000 if they want to find space in a depot.

AISL started the operation of GoFast in 2015 as its contribution to the long-term solution to the problems of cargo accumulating at Manila ports.

However, not all AISL member-liners are fully interconnected with the system right now. As of September last year, more than 20 shipping lines are connected in varying phases to GoFast, according to Leo Morada, chief executive officer of Cargo Data Exchange Center, Inc. (CDEC), which develops and implements the system.

Morada said GoFast is being implemented in three phases: equipment insurance payment; equipment insurance payment and generation and issuance of delivery orders; and linking up of container depots so they can use and issue the equipment interchange receipt.

Ronas said AISL aims to have more shipping lines connected to GoFast before the peak season of imports this year in preparation for the surge of empty containers. He added that AISL has been coordinating with container yard operators and terminal operators on the implementation of GoFast’s features.

GoFast transactions currently cover only shipments of participating shipping lines that go through Manila South Harbor and the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT).

In May last year, CDEC added another feature to the system to allow for the online payment of equipment insurance. This eliminates the need for customs brokers or their representatives to go to AISL offices at ports in order to pay the insurance.

CDEC’s Morada said the project seeks to reduce face-to-face transactions that may lead to corrupt activities.

GoFast is also connected to the system of International Container Terminal Services, Inc., allowing the delivery order from GoFast to be accepted as a web container release order and eliminating the need to go to the port. Customs brokers/processors can just proceed to the billing system and pay the arrastre. Morada noted that this has reduced the paper trail, cutting transport costs for processors needing to travel to different sites to pay.

To use GoFast, importers and customs brokers must secure an account and acquire account credentials, top up to fund the prepaid account, and print the AISL equipment insurance certificate. Clients may contact CDEC for support and training on how to use the system.

GoFast is not a value-added service provider system, and may be used by all customs brokers and their importers.

The fast-tracking of GoFast’s implementation comes after a group of truckers threatened to stop delivering the cargoes of four members of AISL to protest delays with the return of empty containers.

Currently, there are ongoing dialogues between AISL and trucking organizations to come up with a memorandum of agreement on immediate measures to address issues with empty-container returns. The Bureau of Customs and the Department of Transportation have signified their willingness to help look for space to put up additional container yards. – Roumina Pablo

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