Port users’ group complains to SPO over foreign carriers’ charges


The Port Users Confederation of the Philippines, Inc. (PUCP) recently filed a complaint with the newly established Shippers’ Protection Office (SPO) over what it claims are “baseless and exorbitant” destination charges imposed by foreign shipping lines.

PUCP, whose members include several port and customs stakeholder organizations, is seeking immediate issuance of an order prohibiting foreign shipping lines from collecting such charges. These include container deposit, peak season surcharge, congestion fee and emergency cost recovery fee, terminal handling fee, container imbalance charge and container cleaning fee, PUCP said in a statement.

The Association of International Shipping Lines, for its part, told PortCalls it will “cooperate with the SPO in the pursuit of forging better understanding with port stakeholders.”

SPO is an office under the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) tasked to look into “all complaints and issues related to the rates, charges, practices and operations of international and domestic shipping lines in the country.”

READ: Shippers’ Protection Office created to handle complaints on shipping line charges

The office was created through Department of Transportation Department Order (DO) No. 2020-008 dated June 24 with the mandate to protect people during a state of national calamity “from the impact and effects of exorbitant and unreasonable shipping fees resulting in increased prices for domestic consumers.”

The Rules of Procedures for handling shippers’ complaints against domestic and international shipping lines through the SPO was recently issued, allowing stakeholders to lodge complaints.

PUCP also requested SPO to issue an order for shipping lines to first obtain relevant government approval before imposing any charges or fees so that such fees could be properly taxed.

It further claimed that shipping companies’ “practice of separating cost disguised as surcharges from the basis, which is the cost of freight, is depriving the government of much needed revenues.”

Under SPO’s Rules of Procedures, if the complaint is recognized by the SPO, the person complained of will be furnished a copy and instructed to submit a comment or opposition, together with supporting documents, within 10 calendar days from receipt.

READ: Shippers’ Protection Office rules for handling shipping complaints set

Failure to file the required comment/opposition within the prescribed period will be considered a waiver, and the complaint will be deemed submitted for disposition and recommendations, unless a clarificatory conference is deemed by the SPO to be necessary.

PUCP has for years been pushing for foreign shipping line charges to be regulated. In a letter the Office of the President last June, PUCP sought “urgent presidential action” on the port and shipping charges imposed by foreign shipping lines as well as by the PPA.

PUCP said “these crushing fees would compound already heavy burdens faced by businesses struggling to cope with global and domestic economic woes” and “put at grave risk the tens of thousands of jobs in these recession-stricken enterprises.”

Port users and stakeholders have long asked the government to oversee the operations of and charges levied by international shipping lines. Currently, no government agency has direct jurisdiction over these carriers, although the liners’ agents/local offices are required to register with the Maritime Industry Authority and to comply with Customs and tax rules.

In 2019, there were attempts to regulate local shipping charges through a joint administrative order. The proposed administrative order was later replaced with a plan for an executive order. Nothing came of the initiative.

There are bills pending at the House of Representatives pushing for swift passage of a measure that will regulate foreign shipping lines’ charges. – Roumina Pablo