Thousands of containers of goods have been lying in Vietnamese ports for months, causing huge losses to their owners, while the costs involved in disposing them of legally stop authorities from taking action.
In March over 5,400 containers at eight international ports including in Ho Chi Minh City and the northern city of Hai Phong exceeded the limit of 90 days they can be held in a port, according to a recent report from the finance ministry.
Hai Phong ports accounted for a majority of them, with many dating back to 2012-13 and containing used tires and iron and steel scrap.
HCMC customs authorities recently reported that at least 20 percent of 1,054 unclaimed containers contain illegal goods.
Speaking to Thanh Nien, several customs and port officials said there were various reasons for consignees' failure to claim the shipments.
In some cases, goods had been imported for re-export, but were abandoned because businesses realized there was no chance of shipping them out of Vietnam.
Some businesses were troubled by the termination of their contracts.
Bui Duc Hung of Saigon New Port Corporation, which manages several seaports in the south, said problems related to customs clearance were another reason, especially when businesses declared incorrect information about goods to commit frauds.
Nguyen Van Thuan, a tax and customs lecturer at a HCMC-based university, suspected containers of scraps were imported by companies which foreign businesses contracted to dump wastes in Vietnam.
But the reasons are not clear in every case, many admitted.
Under the law, when a container is left at a port for more than 90 days, customs officials have to inform the consignee who is given 60 days to claim it. If the consignee fails to do so, customs have to either destroy or sell its contents.
But it costs a lot of money to handle an abandoned container, news website Saigon Times Online quoted a senior official at the HCMC customs department as saying.
Every step requires money: moving the container to a designated screening place, hiring an independent agency to assess its contents, and destroying or selling the goods, the unnamed official said.
The proceeds from selling the contents are meant to cover the costs, including port warehousing fees. But in most cases the goods deteriorate by the time they are sold, and fetch little, he said.
At HCMC’s Cat Lai Seaport, storage charges are VND290,000 ($12.72) a day for a 20-feet container and VND510,000 ($22.37) for a 40-feet one.
Nguyen Si Trang, deputy chief of the Hai Phong customs department, said besides the costs, authorities are also concerned about environmental impacts, especially when it comes to destroying scrap such as used tires.
Speaking with Thanh Nien, Tran Huy Hien, general secretary of Vietnam Logistics Business Association, said the government needs to assign funds for customs to deal with the troublesome containers.
It also needs to order port authorities to set up a fund for this, he said.
The government should establish an agency to deal with the issue so that businesses can be sued for compensation.
It is necessary to reduce containers' port storage time limit to 30 days to limit damages to the contents when a container is abandoned, he added.