Problems with Shipping Services15/04/2016 09:23
The inter island shipping and the ferry business is a multimillion dollar industry which provides its services right around the country. And like everything else in this day and age, this particular industry has become part of consumer’s lives.
Many consumers also opt to use shipping services simply because it accommodates more luggage capacity and is cheaper when compared with airline companies. Consumers are also able to send larger packages/items such as cement, yaqona, root crops to loved ones in outer islands.
The Council through the complaints received has noted that that many consumers are inconvenienced due to lack of quality and efficient services. Consumers are voicing their disappointment, frustration and distrust in the shipping services. The ships servicing the inter – island routes have been found providing poor quality service, which is of concern. Consumers have to put up with loss of their belongings, change in schedule of travel without notice, delay in departure time, poor and unhygienic conditions of the vessels and refusal of redress by the service providers.
What is more frustrating is that when scheduled trips are cancelled, consumers are given the run around before a refund is provided. The Council has noted that some shipping companies force consumers to re-schedule their trips which defeat the purpose of their initial trips which is time bound. In most cases consumers intend to travel to attend to weddings, other family functions, work related meetings, etc and when the trips are cancelled for some reason by the shipping companies, these consumers are not able to attend these functions.
Mr and Mrs Prasad had to attend a funeral in Kavala and intended to travel from Suva to Kavala via an inter island shipping company. They paid $220 as their return fare and $41.50 for their luggage. Due to overloading of passengers at Vunisea, Mr and Mrs Prasad were told to disembark the vessel and were assured by the shipping company that a fibre boat will be provided to transport them from Vunisea to Kavala. Unfortunately, the shipping company failed to provide alternative means of transportation to Kavala as promised by them. Mr and Mrs Prasad were left stranded at Vunisea and had to ultimately pay $200 to hire a fibre boat on their own accord to reach Kavala in time for the funeral. After the Council’s intervention, the shipping company agreed to compensate $200 to Mr and Mrs Prasad.
The Council believes that in this case, the shipping company should have provided the services as agreed between the parties and as expected by Mr and Mrs Prasad. In the event the shipping company had encountered problems in fulfilling its obligation then the company should have provided alternative means of transportation to the couple. Why should consumers fork out extra money for services already paid for? This simply shows that shipping companies fail to take responsibility or see the urgency for travelling consumers.
In another incident, Mr Timoci was travelling from Savusavu to Suva and was allowed to carry only one small bag. The rest of his luggage was required to be kept in a baggage locker. The locker had a huge padlock on it and Mr Timoci assumed that the locker was secure enough to keep his luggage safe. However, upon arrival at the port to claim for his luggage, he found that the luggage was missing despite it being securely locked. The shipping company in its terms and conditions stated: “it will not take responsibility for lost baggage”. The complainant had to take the matter to the Small Claims Tribunal.
The question that arises is: How can belongings get stolen from secured baggage lockers and why the shipping company through unfair contract terms should get away with such negligence?
Similarly, Mr Peni decided to ship 45 gross of cigarettes worth $2301.75 to Mr Fonmoa in Rotuma. The shipping company received the package but failed to deliver the goods on time to Mr. Fonmoa. The 45 gross of cigarettes were stored in the warehouse without proper security. When the package was finally delivered to Mr. Fonmoa he discovered that the package only contained 41 gross of cigarettes.
During the Council’s investigations, it was revealed that this shipping company did not have proper secured storage facility to safeguard consignments. Mr Fonmoa was frustrated as the shipping company gave him the run around without providing any redress. What is more astonishing is that the shipping company confirmed opening the box, but refused to provide redress. According to them, the package only contained 41 gross of cigarettes and not 45 gross. After the Council’s intervention, the shipping company agreed to implement a policy that would have a proper record keeping system to safe guard consignments. In this case, a consumer had placed his trust on the shipping company only to find that his goods were not safe at all.
The Council appreciates the reform being undertaken by the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji in ensuring that shipping companies comply with the safety standards. However, there is need for improvement and stronger regulations to ensure that consumers receive timely redress should they encounter problems as highlighted above.
The Council continues to remind consumers travelling by shipping services to take extra precaution in order to avoid disappointments. Advice is also given to consumers to act promptly in notifying relevant authorities should they come across situations such as, loss of luggage, sudden cancellations without notice and refusal of refunds. Consumers can also lodge their complaints with the Council.