Pirates! Getting Screwed By The Shipping Industry

December 12, 2017

Pirates! Getting Screwed By The Shipping Industry

If you’re thinking of importing anything from China you need to read this post because it’ll likely save you thousands.

As you should know, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of our pilot brewery from China. This is my first time importing anything of significant size or value so it’s been a steep and very expensive learning curve.

Prior to ordering the kit, I opened a thread on the ever-reliable Aussie Home Brewer forum seeking advice from those that had done it in the past. Heaps of valuable responses suggesting organise a shipping quote beforehand.

So I approached a couple freight forwarding companies to price picking the kit up from the Sydney port and delivering it to our site in Bucketty.

It’s being shipped in a big pine box of 8 cubic metres and weights about 800kg.

First Logistics came back at what seemed reasonable, $550 for delivery and roughly $300 for customs charges.

They also told me to be prepared for “port charges” of $500 to $600 which are apparently a fee charged by the shipping company for something (nobody could tell me what) plus the GST of about $1000 (which I should get back as I’m buying in a business).

Remember, in the original quote it included shipping to Sydney port. So these costs are all being incurred to get the kit from the ship, to our door.

Two weeks ago received a random call from an aggressive sounding lady from some company I’d never heard of. I was told our kit was inside their container and I needed to send through documentation and payment.

After digging a little deeper, it turns out this is the way it works. Our brewery was on their boat BUT they would only release it after I’d paid $1,600 in port charges.

$1,000 more than expected!

I pushed back and the lady, who started talking to me like I was buying a 1998 Subaru WRX with tinted windows and a fully sick body kit.


This is what I imagine she looks like.

“If you have a problem then go back to your supplier, we don’t make any money on port charges, it all comes from China, they’re corrupt, you’re getting screwed by them not us, blah blah blah blah” I actually put the phone down at one point to compose myself for 10 seconds because I could feel my blood boiling. When I picked it back up she was still rabbiting on…

I hit up the supplier, my beloved Alice. She pleaded ignorance, saying the increased charges were because it was a very long package (the only time in my life that sentence has pissed me off), which I later found out was absolute rubbish.

Back on the phone to the WRX lady and asking for some transparency on the pricing. If she’s being charged port charges, then surely she can produce an invoice detailing why it’s $1,600?

She did.

It read: Port charges = $1,600

Jeez… thanks for nothing.

I’m told these fees are then “kicked back” to some dodgy pirates somewhere along the supply chain.

Ok, so here’s the lesson for all you budding importers out there. If you want to avoid getting screwed by these mysterious port charges, don’t let the supplier ship your goods. Get a quote from a freight company to ship it from their door, to your door. This fee will encompass ALMOST everything, but most importantly, include the port charges.

So I had no choice but to stump up the $1,600 and pay their ransom.

If you were paying attention in that last paragraph, you’ll notice the emphasis on the word “almost”.

Let’s begin Act 2 of this despicable drama.

My kit was due to be delivered last Thursday (today is Tuesday) after I’d sent the $4k and shipping documents to First Logistics, paying what I thought was everything. First Logistics ended up dealing directly with WRX lady and getting the kit off her ship because I didn’t trust her on the back of the port charges saga.

Last Thursday my inbox pings with an email from my former mate, Nathan, at First Logistics saying the kit has been held up at customs for unknown reasons. He’ll let me know more when he does.

Fair play, border protection and all that. I could have been smuggling anything in those fermenters. I then get on the blower to make sure I understand that I’m not about to be arrested by the AFP for illegal importation or whatever.

“Nah, it happens all the time. Just be aware that you might get charged for storage while your goods are sitting in the depot. But she should be right, the depot doesn’t normally charge if it’s being held by customs.”

“Ok… so how much could I be up for?” I ask.

“Mate, no idea. We don’t find out until after your package is cleared” replied Nathan

“Any idea when that might be?” I ask.

“Mate, no idea, could be tomorrow, could be next week. We just don’t know. And I don’t wanna call the depot because it might trigger them to charge ya, let me handle it”.

Ok Mr Nathan. I will do as you say.

Today is Tuesday, a mere 3 working days since Customs put it on a temporary hold.

This morning I received an email to confirm my goods have been released!

Wait… What? There is a further ransom to pay!?!?

Nathan emails me an invoice for $1,800 in storage fees.

No shit… $1,800.

For holding my goods for 6 days (they include the weekend and today).

On the blower to Nathan, who listens patiently while telling me that there’s nothing he can do. “You can call the depot directly and talk to them if you want?”. Damn straight, give me their number.

I then call Blackmail Depot Pty Ltd to plead my case. Mustafa put me through to Wayne, the mid-level manager. Within 5 seconds it was was clear he didn’t give a shit about me, or life in general.

I explained calmly how unreasonable it was that s it was that I was being charged $1,800 for 6 days storage, when it was completely out of my control and enforced from customs, his reply was predictable.

“Mate, nothing I can do. If you don’t pay today then we’ll bill you for every day that it sits here. If you’ve gotta problem then send me an email and I’ll send it through to my director, who will probably ignore it”. I paraphrased that last bit.

I then asked Wayne “How does anyone import anything if they’re subject to these outlandish costs, should customs want to hold up a package?”

Wayne then replied “Mate, we do thousands of deliveries every week. It’s probably because you were a first-time importer. But I don’t know. Either pay it or don’t, there’s nothing I can do.”

Why does everyone keep calling me their mate? I’d have more respect if they addressed me as “sucker”. At least it’d be honest.

So I paid the further $1,800 ransom and it’ll apparently be on a truck first thing tomorrow.


Wayne’s profile pic on Facebook

It’s being delivered to one of our neighbours, affectionately known as “Chicken man Dave” who has a forklift and has graciously offered to hold it for me until after Christmas when I can get the shed finished and hook it up.

All up it’s now cost an astronomical $5,800 to get the pilot brewery from the Sydney Port to my door, only 90mins north.


Lessons learned:

  • Organise a fixed quote to ship from the supplier, directly to your door.
  • Budget $50 per cubic metre, per day in holding costs should customs decide to take a look at your package. I’m told that the odds increase if you’re a first-time importer, like us.

This pilot brewery better be the best piece of equipment the world of brewing has ever seen.

Please China, don’t go breaking my heart again.

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