KARACHI: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has decided to investigate extortion of huge amounts from importers in the name of demurrage and detention charges.
According to a newspaper report, importers are being forced to pay huge amounts on each consignment on one pretext or the other and the NAB has decided to probe it. The latest development has come after media reports highlighted the plight of importers and huge losses to the national economy.
“The illegal holding of imported goods continues unabated at the port, as importers are being allegedly “conned” in the name of “additional demurrage and detention charges” by the customs officials, port terminals and shipping lines,” the report said.
Quoting well-informed sources privy to the development, the report said the NAB has taken notice of the plight of importers and decided to investigate the issue. “Importers are asked to pay additional demurrage and detention charges despite providing the ‘delay and detention certificate’.
They are forced to pay huge amounts on each consignment as Maersk and other shipping lines allegedly hold their containers,” it added. The report, quoting importers, said that despite several complaints, the Customs Department has been reluctant to stop the fleecing of traders and act against the accused.
Importers are facing heavy losses on a daily basis due to the unprofessional behavior of the port staff, the report said, adding that apart from financial losses, the illegalities are also harming importers personally, in terms of reputation of their businesses and delays in deliveries.
According to the Section 14A of the Customs Act, 1969, an importer cannot be forced to pay any demurrage or detention charges if the Customs Department issues a certificate, called the ‘delay and detention certificate’. However, importers are being charged heavy amounts of money as demurrage despite showing the certificate, the report noted.
According to the report, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is likely to start an inquiry against the illegal collection of demurrage and detention charges from importers after they complained against the customs department, shipping lines, and port terminals.
An application against the staff of Maersk for registration of a First Information Report (FIR) has also been submitted with the Port Qasim police station. The importers have complained that Maersk, its subsidiary in Pakistan, Maersk Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd are robbing them of billions of rupees through criminal breach of trust.
In a letter to Maersk, the importers said, “We, through our shipper/agents in China, handed the goods to Maersk shipping line as trust to be delivered and released at Karachi port.
The Maersk shipping line nominated Maersk Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd as their agent in Karachi for the delivery of goods. We also paid complete ocean freight charges to the shipping lines as agreed. But despite repeated reminders and visiting the office of Maersk Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd, we have not been issued the delivery order/NOC without which our goods are not released.
To our surprise, now they have verbally refused to release our goods and started demanding additional charges in shape of demurrage, detention charges that were never agreed earlier.” Importers stated that none of the charges of demurrage/detention, as being demanded by Maersk, were specifically agreed between the shipping lines and the shipper which was necessary under the law.
The Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) has also raised its voice against the charging of additional amounts from importers. The chamber demanded the establishment of an independent regulatory authority to resolve problems being faced by importers on a permanent basis.
If criminal cases are registered and the NAB completes its investigations, Maersk could face complete closure in Pakistan, the report said, quoting importers.