THE government is ordering cargo owners to remove their “overstaying” container vans from the congested Manila ports within five to seven days or these may be forfeited.

Joint Administrative Order no. 20-01 dated April 2 outlines the process for the expedited release of refrigerated containers and dry vans which have piled up in Manila ports since the start of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last month.

Under the order, cargoes beyond 30 days from the date of discharge must be withdrawn within five days since the issuance of the order on April 2. These cargo will otherwise be considered abandoned or forfeited, and disposed by the Bureau of Customs (BoC).

All refrigerated containers are given seven days to be removed from the ports, while chilled cargoes are given five days from the date of issuance.

The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) can impose penalties on refrigerated and chilled cargo that are not withdrawn, and reefers that remain unclaimed after three days from the deadline will be considered abandoned and forfeited.

The order applies to chilled cargo including medicine, fruits, vegetables, and chilled meat; frozen cargo including fish and meat; and dry goods including out of gauge described as heavy equipment or project cargoes stored on flatbed chassis.

The order directs terminal operators to pull out reefers to another facility where the government can determine whether the goods are still viable. The box owner or shipping line covers the costs of transfer and the cost of condemnation for goods found unfit for human consumption.

Disposal contractors unable to pull out containers from the facility within five days must pay the BoC liquidated damages and may be suspended from the competitive bidding process for a year.

Reefer containers arriving after the issuance of the order must be withdrawn within 10 days or will be declared abandoned.

The BoC may also direct shipping lines to retain reefers on vessels and be sent back to the transshipment port.

Signed by the heads of the agriculture, trade, and finance departments as well as the BoC and the PPA, the order was released in order to “ensure the availability of essential goods, in particular food and medicine, by adopting measures as may reasonably be necessary to facilitate and/or minimise disruption to the supply chain.”

The BoC will now prioritize food, medicine, and medical and basic necessities cargoes arriving at the ports.

International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) last week urged its consignees to withdraw their reefers after noting that more than 8,000 cleared containers remained at the terminal.

ICTSI offered the use of their offsite facilities in Laguna, Bulacan, and Cavite.

The PPA warned that cargo congestion at Manila ports may cause the terminals to shut down, and may lead to a shortage in goods supplies.

The order stated that importers or consignees have two days from the date of discharge to file goods declaration, and must pay duties and taxes within 24 hours from the final assessment of the BoC. Shipping lines have 24 hours since payment to release delivery orders.

Filing for goods declaration of reefers and refrigerated containers must be done before the arrival of the vessel or within 48 hours from discharge.

Filing and payment can be done online. BoC implemented a system where importers can email the application for permit or clearance, and may follow up with regulatory agencies through email or Viber.

The importers will be given reference numbers and date of issuance of permits by email.

The BoC will also relax the selection process for food, medicine, and medical and basic necessities.

The PPA will also provide free storage for all goods cleared for release by the BoC for up to five days from discharge. After that time period, the PPA will move the cargo to another location at the expense of the importer or consignee.

Refrigerated containers where no goods declaration has been filed within seven days from discharge of the last package from the vessel will be considered abandoned.

Within 24 hours after a decree of abandonment and forfeiture has been issued on these containers, the BoC will decide how these items will be disposed off.

“The BoC shall immediately donate the contents that are fit for consumption to the OCD (Office of Civil Defense) upon approval of the Secretary of Finance,” the order stated.

Empty containers will be returned to their owner.

The BoC on Friday said it expects yard utilization to improve at Manila ports in the coming days, but continued to urge importers to claim their containers.

“Through close coordination with ICTSI, 472 overstaying and abandoned containers have already been transferred to the Pacific Roadlink Logistics, Inc while 925 containers have been transferred to the Manila North Harbor Container Port, Inc. 78 containers were also transferred to the Laguna Gateway Inland Terminal,” the Customs bureau said. — Jenina P. Ibañez