Photo: Hapag-Lloyd.

Fruit juice importer Rahal International has filed a complaint with the US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) against carrier Hapag-Lloyd over “unfair” charging practices.

Rahal claims that, between April and June 2022, Hapag issued almost $300,000 in detention/demurrage charges for empty containers – an “inconsistent” approach to charging and not compliant with the US Shipping Act.

It notes: “Rahal has sustained actual injuries and damages of at least $715,631.83 as a direct and proximate result”.

Rahal alleges that the carrier continued to accept business knowing “it lacked adequate facilities for the return of empty containers” and that it did so without seeking alternatives or informing its customer, all of which resulted in “logistical paralysis”.

And the importer claims the behaviour of the carrier was not a one-off. It says: “At least one year prior to the events complained of, Hapag had failed to provide adequate facilities at and about the port of New York and New Jersey for its customers to return empty containers. As a result of Hapag’s failure to establish reasonable practices regarding return of empty containers, Hapag had a backlog of empty containers building up in and about the port.”

Rahal says it left its drayage providers unable to use their chassis or retrieve newly arrived loaded boxes.

Alongside the “unfair” charges by Hapag, Rahal claims it incurred additional expenses from its drayage providers and saw close to $200,000-worth of apple juice spoil, waiting for retrieval.

Rahal is the latest customer to go after a carrier in the wake of what many claim were exploitative practices in recent years, particularly during the pandemic. Indeed, in the complaint Rahal makes pointed reference to “excessive ocean freight fees, which generated unprecedented profits” for Hapag, despite its supposed awareness that it lacked the capacity to provide services offered.

In May, US retailer Bed Bath & Beyond claimed $37.65m from OOCL, alleging exploitative and unjust business practices during the pandemic. And in June, the FMC ordered Maersk-owned Hamburg Süd to pay furniture shipper OJ Commerce $9.8m after refusing contracted cargo space for its containers.

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