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The unplanned dumpsite
Thursday,  6/21/2018, 19:56 

The unplanned dumpsite

By Son Nguyen

Waste is being stacked up, day in day out, at several seaports in the country, as if Vietnam were a dumpsite of the world. Port operators now find themselves in a quagmire, as tens of thousands of containers are being abandoned there, aggravating port congestion on one hand and adversely affecting port operators’ business efficiency on the other. The key reasons, according to local media, include the lack of efficient solutions to deal with the abandoned containers, and the absence of good rules to choke off imports of such unwanted waste.

In fact, the situation of containers numbering in the thousands being abandoned at seaports have been known for years, but all have turned worse since early this year when China made a decision banning imports of waste. The flow of waste has ever since been diverted into Vietnam, where the legal barrier can be seen as more porous. Outcries from operators of ports, especially at Cat Lai Port in HCMC, are deafening.

The Vietnam Maritime Administration says that the number of containers unclaimed for at seaports around the country as of May 31 had amounted to nearly 28,000, including over 6,700 containers at ports in Haiphong, over 6,500 in Ba Ria-Vung Tau, and more than 14,600 in HCMC, according to news website Petrotimes. Those containers hold second-hand machines, apparel materials, and especially plastic and paper waste.

In HCMC, nearly 8,000 containers of plastic and paper waste are being abandoned at Cai Lai Port, Thanh Nien reports. Citing Nguyen Nang Toan, director for logistics at Tan Cang Company, the operator of the port, the newspaper says one-third of such waste has been at the port for more than three months, and might be left there for good.

The mounting backlog of abandoned containers at Cat Lai has caused severe congestion as they occupy one-tenth of the container yard at the port. According to Toan, they not only affect the operation of the port, but also hinder vessels from normal cargo loading operations and affecting importers and exporters, says the paper.

Nguoi Lao Dong says the volume of waste is still increasing, as dozens of containers of plastic waste come to the shores each day at Cat Lai Port. Meanwhile, Nguyen Xuan Sang, head of the Vietnam Maritime Administration, says the situation is going from bad to worse, as a big amount of plastic and paper waste is coming to Vietnam’s ports in the coming time, since many large vessels transporting waste are en route to Vietnam, says news site Nha Dau Tu.

Several media outlets point the finger at the loose legal barrier to stonewall waste imports.

Many local enterprises without sufficient conditions still seek to import such waste for quick bucks, since such cheap imports also contain second-hand products that can be repaired for local sale. However, when they complete customs clearance procedures, the port fees may have already outweighed the value of the waste, resulting in many abandoning the goods and taking flight, says Vneconomy. In addition, there are also numerous cases of imported substances failing to meet local conditions, and under such circumstances, traders also relinquish the cargo.

Normally, such waste is almost free, and if the batch goes through, the importer can earn a profit six times the total cost. However, many importers use bogus company names to import waste, and when facing legal problems, they would abandon the cargo and walk free, says news site Vnexpress.

In addition, according to Nguoi Lao Dong, many batches of cargo are imported as goods in transit, but they are never re-exported to a third country as shown in transport contracts. “As many enterprises take advantage of the trade practice of temporary import for re-export, such substances end up in Vietnam as the final destination, while management agencies find it hard to verify the cargo owner,” Phan Trong Lam, deputy director of Vietnam International Container Terminal (VITC), is quoted by Nguoi Lao Dong. Lam furthers that port operators have uncovered numerous batches of cargo in transit being abandoned, but importers have relinquished their responsibility.

The biggest headache for port operators is that there is no sound solution to the stagnation.

Those containers of waste failing to meet legal criteria will be banned by customs, while port operators cannot pinpoint the real cargo owners to hold them responsible, according to Phap Luat Online. Similarly, Dien Dan Doanh Nghiep says that under the Customs Law, cargo that is denied entry must be shipped out of the country by the goods owner or the shipper, but owners in many cases are just bogus names, while the vessels are still not held accountable.

In addition, Circular 203/TT-BTC of the Finance Ministry also does not allow for goods owners to relinquish their right to the cargo whose import amounts to violation, and forces the customs agency to verify genuine goods owners, which in many cases are impossible. Even destroying such cargo also proves extremely difficult, since there is no budget for such a costly job, says Dien Dan Doanh Nghiep.

Phan Trong Lam of VITC suggests tough sanctions against both vessels and importers for the waste being dumped in Vietnam. “Many countries hold vessel owners accountable when transporting cargo not shown in the bill of lading, and such vessels can be arrested,” Lam is quoted in Nguoi Lao Dong.

A representative of Tan Cang Sai Gon as the operator of Cat Lai Port says in Tuoi Tre that it is the loose regulations in Vietnam that result in the high backlogs of waste at ports. The cost of treating waste is high, so many countries are ready to spend US$100 in freight for a container plus US$1,000 as deposit for the container itself, and send it to Vietnam where the regulations in this aspect are still lax, says the source. Under international transport regulations, if a container is abandoned for more than 90 days, Vietnam as the final destination will be responsible for dealing with such cargo, says Tuoi Tre.

Nguyen Van Can, head of the General Department of Vietnam Customs, says tough measures should be taken against violators. “The Customs Department will coordinate with police to launch investigations right in this second quarter and press legal charges against violators,” he is quoted by Tuoi Tre.

Apparently, it is urgent to mend loopholes in the country’s legal environment to choke off imports of waste into the country, and apply tough punitive sanctions against violators. Otherwise, Vietnam will sooner or later become a real, unplanned dumpsite of the world.

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