Correspondent updates shippers on Senegalese customs fines

Correspondent McLeans and their African network WAMS have released an update on the current status of Senegalese customs fines for alleged cargo shortages.

Standard Club advised members trading to Senegal that they should be mindful of the potential customs’ fines system and “be prepared for any potential delay arising once a shortage is found at the end of discharging operations”.

The correspondent noted that, upon completion of discharging operations, the local Customs Authorities in Senegal might decide to impose a customs fine based on the final figures reported by the stevedores. This could result in an administrative arrest order being issued to the Harbour Master’s Office. Standard Club warned members that it might be difficult to investigate and obtain details of the fine, because it was not standard practice of the Authorities to issue the supporting documentation before negotiations.

In order to avoid the delay of any vessel, the Customs Authorities will accept a Club LOU and tend to require that the fine be settled within a specified number of days.

The correspondent noted that since its introduction a couple of years ago the mechanism of the Customs’ fines system remained very adverse and disruptive, and that there was also a certain amount of unpredictability.

The appreciation of a shortage and thus of the fine by Customs was based on final figures reported by stevedores upon completion of discharging operations. In some other jurisdictions where Customs’ fines still prevail, for example in Benin and Cote ‘d’Ivoire, the practice is for the local agent to approach the Owners through the local Club’s Correspondent to request a security in respect of an anticipated Customs’ fine. However, WAMS has said that in Dakar for the last couple of years there had been no indication until completion of discharge that there was even a possibility that the vessel would be delayed in respect of a Customs’ fine. Instead, as soon as a shortage was reported by stevedores to Customs at the end of discharge, Customs tended to issue directly to the Harbour Master’s Office an administrative arrest order copy, notifying the Port Police as well.

“Frustratingly, it is rare when Customs or the Harbour Master’s Office are willing to disclose this document to agents, Club’s Correspondents or Owners in the first instance”, the correspondent said.

Because the formal notice of the arrest was not always given to the agent or the local P&I Correspondent, they were left in a very difficult position and were forced to investigate locally in an attempt to obtain a verbal, and unofficial, understanding of the situation. Likewise, Customs will not issue the document supporting a Customs’ fine until the latter is directly negotiated with the local P&I Correspondent.

In terms of quantum, the initial fine’s amount before discussions tends to be based on allegedly short delivered cargo’s customs market value. Customs accept a Club’s Letter of Undertaking (LOU), issued directly or via their Correspondent, for the amount negotiated, and do not suggest any specific wording. However, the correspondent said that experience had shown that Customs might raise objections to the wording typically suggested by Clubs and, in particular, tend to require the LOU to be governed by Senegalese law, and subject to the competence of Senegalese courts.

Furthermore, Customs require the negotiated amount for which security is issued to be settled within a certain number of days, also to be discussed with the local P&I Correspondent.

Once the final LOU had been remitted to Customs, or the fine paid directly, Customs would send a request to the Harbour Master’s office for the withdrawal of the arrest, with a copy to the port police, whom the correspondent alleged often threatened to confiscate the crew’s passports when they consider that discussions in respect of the fine were taking too long. Only then would the Harbour Master grant clearance for vessel’s sailing.

Only at the end of this entire process could documents be collected by the local P&I Correspondent. It was warned that, from the first verbal notice that the vessel had been arrested to eventual clearance to sail, the vessel was likely to be delayed for several hours.