KARACHI: Covid-19 came as one of the biggest challenges to human life and the world economy but it brought huge windfalls to Aruna Hussain, Soren Skou and other officials of Maersk in Pakistan, who allegedly exploited the situation to the hilt and made billions of rupees in the name of demurrage and detention charges from importers.
On the other hand, the government also failed to enforce the rules and regulations, which provided a free hand to shipping lines, especially the largest shipping company, Maersk, to charge importers at will and cause huge losses to Pakistan’s economy. Importers and exporters raised the issue at all forums many times but to no avail. According to a report in Financial Daily, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) expressed its dismay and concern at the helplessness of importers and exporters, who were exploited by shipping lines operating to Pakistani ports by taking advantage of Covid-19 lockdowns of over two months and charging hefty amounts of container detention charges and penalties from consignees.
The report said importers were unable to obtain clearance from the Customs Department and take delivery of their imported cargoes well beyond the allowed free time due to the long period of lockdown and closure of industries as well as transport. Consequently, the agents of shipping lines recovered penal charges ranging from $150 to $250 per container per day, in addition to other charges and penalties at their discretion. Moreover, in total disregard for the foreign exchange regulations, the conversion rate of the rupee to the dollar was taken as Rs.167 to Rs.168 during April and early May 2020 against the official rate of Rs.159 to Rs.161 to a dollar.
The report, citing KCCI office-bearers, said that Pakistani ports were the most unregulated in the region with lax rules having no clear guidelines, regulatory framework or specified tariffs for container detention, terminal handling charges (THC) and other miscellaneous charges which were unjust and illegal. The Ministry of Maritime Affairs hardly paid any attention in the last two years to regulate the activities of the shipping lines and their agents. “To some extent, statutory provisions in the Customs Act 1969 and relevant rules confer powers on customs authorities to regulate the functions of shipping lines and monitor their charges, but in the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19, the FBR and Customs Preventive failed to come to the rescue of importers and protect Pakistan’s economic interests in the face of immense clout and ability of the shipping lines to circumvent any such leverage by the Customs Department,” the report noted.
As a result, importers and clearing agents were forced to pay discretionary charges without contest because the delay of each single day increased the cost of an imported cargo and there were instances where detention charges were accumulated to a level where the entire value of the cargo was wiped out and Customs authorities had to auction the cargo to recover the dues. “Miseries of importers and industries, which import raw materials, were compounded by heavy demurrage incurred on the consignments which was payable to private terminal operators. They defied the orders of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and KPT to give any concession to importers despite clear directives from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and KPT,” the report regretted.
“It seems that the Ports of Karachi and Port Qasim have been taken over by foreign shipping lines and foreign terminal operators. Pakistan’s foreign trade and local industry are held hostage by these shipping lines, agents and terminal operators, resulting in higher costs of doing business. No other port authorities and ministries of shipping in the region, including those in India, allow such a free hand to the shipping lines or terminal operators to blackmail importers and exporters at their whim,” the report said, citing office-bearers of the KCCI.
Importers have called for recovering billions of rupees extorted from them by officials of Maersk and other shipping companies in the name of demurrage and detention charges during peak months of the pandemic. They want action against Søren Skou, Claus V. Hemmingsen, Søren Toft, Vincent Clercp, Morten H. Engelstoft, others of Maersk Line and Arslan Khan, Aruna Hussain, Ghazanfar Khan, Raheel Salim, Maqsood Ul Hasan Khan, Fuad Khan, Hasan Faraz, Shakeel Masih, Omer Khan, Ali Jawad Alvi, Zafar Iqbal, Ayesha Chowdhry, Zahid Hussain, Salman Ahmad, Aamir Ali, Umais Aziz Khan, Mohammed Naeem, Farheen Mahmud, Mubasshar Iqbal, Affaq Syed, Syed Mohammad Abbas Jafri, Muhammad Tanveer Sharif, Salman Ateeq, Hamza Haq, Ziad Mahboob, Aamir Ibrahim, Yasir Saeed Khan, Amal Sadiq Dawood, Effat Mehmood, Maria Urooj, Zain Warsi, Mehreen Zulfiqar, Awais Saleem, Zafar Iqbal, Syed Osman Iqbal Zaidi, Anum Yaqub, Fahad Ali, Obaid Iqbal, Zahid Hussain, Muhammad Ali Qureshi, Danish Siddiqui, Amir Arif, Arshad Ayub, Syed Mudassir Ali, Syed Hammad Hussain, Ayesha Qadri, Sheikh Samiullah, others of Ministry of Maritime Affairs and officials of audit and legal firms of Maersk Pakistan Private Limited for their exploitation.
Importers and exporters also called upon the government to recover billions of rupees extorted from them during the pandemic and deposit them into the national exchequer. They also demanded criminal cases against the accused to stop their exploitation and blackmail in the future.