Friday, 21 September 2012

Shipping Line Fuel Surcharges... Blatant Ripoff?


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Fuel for ships is known as "bunker fuel" and since the global financial crisis(GFC) bunkers have fluctuated dramatically with a sharp drop post GFC followed by a dramatic increase.

I am amazed at how different carriers apply or choose not to apply bunker surcharges of one description or another even when they operate in the same markets and source their fuel from the same place. Of course the carrier charging it claims they are bleeding and simply can't afford not too. I always enjoy the the look of terror on the sales reps face when I ask how come their competitor isn't charging it and has nearly identical cost structures. I am yet to ever get a plausible explanation.

The carriers that do apply a surcharge most commonly call it B.A.F. This stands for Bunker Adjustment Factor. Another one used by one RoRo carrier is E.F.A.F which stands for Emergency Fuel Adjustment Factor. The word "Emergency" always puzzles me too. Where is the emergency when bunker prices are falling? It's really just marketing spin to help justify a charge that perhaps isn't fair in the first place both in it's conception and it's application.

Another puzzling aspect is why does the application of BAF or EFAF not follow oil price increases and decreases exactly?

When a carrier prices a shipment the rate is made up of a few components. Vessel cost (whether it be charter fees or repayments to banks), part of the port fees, fuel and administration costs. Why then do carriers apply their BAF of say 55% to the components other than fuel? This is another thing any shipping line sales rep is yet to be able to explain to my customers and I.

By the way, how can you possibly charge 55% anyway? That's enormous and surely far outweighs the actual fuel cost itself.

Where there is confusion in terms, or emergencies, there is scope to squeeze more money out of the shipper in the end. I think it's about time some shipping lines came clean and stop the games and rip off. The market can't afford it any more.

My clients and I would rather see all carriers drop this charge altogether and build their fuel costs into their freight rates like most other transportation operators do whether via road, rail and air.

What could be more transparent than that?

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke