Shipping companies are currently charging about ten types of surcharges for goods at seaports


Loading and unloading goods at Cat Lai Port, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: T.H.
Loading and unloading goods at Cat Lai Port, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: T.H.

According to Mr. Nhữ Đính Thiện, Vice Secretary-General of Visaba, the current operations of foreign shipping lines in Vietnam significantly impact the rights of import and export enterprises, seaports, logistics, and state management efforts.

Mr. Thiện analyzed: Nearly 100% of Vietnam’s import and export cargo volume is handled by foreign shipping lines; these lines enter and leave ports and open routes without needing to report since current Vietnamese laws do not regulate the registration and management of transport routes.

Additionally, these shipping companies are charging around ten types of surcharges for goods at seaports (such as THC surcharges, documentation fees, fuel surcharges, container cleaning fees, etc.). However, the shipping lines themselves decide the price levels and types of these surcharges without any agreement with customers.

Vietnamese cargo owners, not being the contract negotiators for transportation, are forced to accept these surcharge terms to receive their goods. With this practice, from the beginning of 2024, foreign shipping lines have continuously announced increases of 10–20% (from VND 290,000 to 550,000 per container) in THC fees for each container service.

When shipping companies want to adjust fees and surcharges, they simply post price changes 15 days before the adjustment and are not required to go through checks or explain the factors constituting the fees and surcharges (according to Decree 146/2016/ND-CP dated November 2, 2016, on price listing, additional charges beyond service prices for container cargo transportation by sea, service prices at seaports).

Foreign shipping lines have been demanding very strong discounts from depots, up to 50-60% of the lifting charges, while these fees are not related to the shipping companies.

From this reality, Mr. Thiện calculates, with 25 million TEUs going through Vietnamese ports, of which about 15 million containers are import and export goods, Vietnam is becoming an important market for foreign shipping lines.

In fact, for an average container, the shipping companies charge an additional $200, thus annually Vietnam is losing over $3 billion uncontrolled. This is income on Vietnamese territory paid by Vietnamese import and export cargo owners. This situation increases logistics costs and reduces the competitiveness of Vietnamese goods compared to other countries, particularly as there are transport routes with zero or negative freight rates.

Disturbed by this reality, the Vietnam Cargo Owners Association has sent letters to the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Price Management Department – Ministry of Finance, and the Vietnam Maritime Administration, requesting stronger management of the surcharges by foreign shipping lines.

Mr. Phan Thông, General Secretary of the Association, stated that for many years now, foreign shipping lines have arbitrarily charged dozens of different fees and surcharges for the goods of Vietnamese import and export enterprises. This price increase is not based on any regulations of the managing authorities and is much higher than the handling fees that the shipping lines pay back to Vietnamese seaports.

Consequently, when Circular 39/2023/TT-BGTVT of the Ministry of Transport, which decided to adjust the prices for pilot services, use of bridges, docks, buoys, container handling, and towing, was issued on December 25, 2023, and took effect from February 15, 2024, from the beginning of February 2024, all foreign shipping lines simultaneously announced a 10–20% increase in THC fees for each container service in Vietnam. Notably, this fee increase applies only to Vietnam, while other countries in the region have not seen a similar increase in THC fees. Especially, in absolute terms, the 10-20% increase in THC fees by the shipping lines is three times higher than the price adjustment for container handling at Vietnamese seaports.

Mr. Lê Duy Hiệp, Chairman of the Vietnam Logistics Business Association (VLA), believes that it is time to tighten the management of surcharges by foreign shipping lines. To achieve this, legal aspects and international practices need to be studied.

From the reality above, the associations suggest that the regulatory bodies should include surcharges beyond service prices for container cargo transportation by sea in the list of goods and services subject to price declaration to perfect the price management mechanism and the types of surcharges for goods at seaports, to avoid arbitrary price increases and excessive charges affecting cargo owners’ rights. In cases of super-profit surcharges, special consumption taxes should be applied.

Additionally, review and issue a management mechanism for collecting various surcharges, compared with the regulations of Vietnamese law and international practices, demanding shipowners to immediately stop collecting unreasonable fees, and also recommending the Prime Minister to soon enact mechanisms for managing the fee collection of foreign shipping companies operating in Vietnam.


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