A delayed description


A ship agent based at a transhipment port was required to submit a declaration to customs authorities in respect of a container of 990 cases of cigarettes being transhipped at that port.

The agent was required to submit, as part of an EDI transmission, a copy of the bill of lading (B/L) by 0830. They submitted the B/L two hours late, and without a cargo description. At 18.00 the same day they submitted an amended bill of lading which included the cargo description.

One week later, the customs authorities detained the container on the basis that the cargo was not declared within the prescribed period. After three months had passed, the authorities approached the agent and advised that they would release the cargo in exchange for the payment of a deposit (which the agent paid, so as to mitigate a potential claim from cargo interests), and subsequently levied a fine against the agent of over US$ 400,000.

A lawyer was instructed to appeal against the fine on the basis that the ship agent’s error was a simple administrative one not intended to assist in the smuggling of illegal tobacco products. The lawyer also advised that as the ship agent had provided all but the cargo description in the EDI declaration, they had in fact complied with the requirements of the relevant legislation.

The appeal was lodged but was rejected by the authority so the ship agent appealed to the department of finance. Unfortunately, they also rejected the appeal so, on the advice of the lawyer acting for them, the agent filed a further appeal in the administrative court. The case was ultimately heard by the Supreme Court, who found in the agent’s favour and ordered the return of the deposit, in full, to the agent.

ITIC covered the cost of the litigation, which was approximately US$ 40,000.

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