According to BNamericas, Chile’s fruit exporters are reporting losses due to problems at ports both domestic and foreign, and port operators and shipping companies could be held legally responsible and face compensation claims.
“This is the worst season I have ever experienced. The situation is catastrophic,” Rodrigo Manasevich, CEO of fruit export firm Utilitas, said during a legal resource webinar held by the Chilean fruit growers association Fedefruta.
He said the sector had thoroughly prepared for the 2021-2022 export season, but many shipments have been delayed due to port congestion and some exporters have been forced to change ports entirely just to ship their cargo.
Even after making sure their products were shipped, many exporters found that overseas destination ports were also experiencing congestion-related delays.
As a result, large quantities of produce, particularly fresh fruit, could not be sold. Amidst these problems, port operators even continued to charge demurrage fees, meaning exporters were penalized for not being able to load or unload ships within agreed times.
“Unfortunately, the way forward will be to take legal action that allows us to level the playing field so that producers have fair negotiations,” Manasevich said, adding that at least one port operator has asked the association not to go to court.
When BNamericas asked webinar panelists if port operators could be held legally liable, Sebastián Norris, a partner at law firm Araya & CIA, said this would depend on whether the port is in Chile or abroad.
“Within Chile, there would indeed be a responsibility on the part of the port operator and that could be based on the shipping contract or, and this is something that has happened in the past, possibly in the lack of services, where the terminal is not giving me the service that it is supposed to provide, and there may be State responsibility,” he said since most port operators in Chile are state-owned.
When asked about the possibility of compensation for exporters, Norris told BNamericas that port operators and shipping companies could be sued for related damages.