Customs fines for shortages in Ivory Coast
by JC IMPOUTOU - May 2005
Many owners whose ships trade on a regular basis to the Ivory Coast have already faced requests from local agents, one or two days before completion of the discharge, to provide security against potential customs fine for alleged shortages which may be reported by the stevedores. In addition, the agents threaten not to allow the ship's sailing if the security is not posted. Owners find themselves in an awkward position to deal with such requests. How can they reasonably provide agents with security for shortages which are not yet ascertained ? How can they risk avoiding giving the requested security without encountering difficulties for the ship's sailing on completion ?

1. Legal basis of the fine for alleged shortages :

The basis of any fine finds its roots in the provisions of Article 267 of customs code. The first paragraph of this article states : " the captains of ships, boats, aircrafts are reckoned to be responsible for ommissions and inaccuracies noted in the manifests...".

In accordance with the above provisions, the customs authorities consider that any deficit or excess of cargo as per the manifested quantity is the result of an " inaccuracy in the manifest".

Although the rules do not specify on the basis of which document the deficit or excess is determined, the customs authorities' constant position in this respect is to take into account only the contents of the stevedores' final outturn.

2. Assessment of the fine for shortage :

To assess the fine for shortage, the customs authorities take into account the reference value of the concerned goods in their file of values.

The reference value of potassium chloride, for instance, is 3104200000E : 2,053 XOF per kilo. So, for a shortage of 100 TM of potassium chloride, the customs fine is made up as follows:

- taxable value = quantum of shortage x reference value. - fees and taxes = quantum of shortage x reference value X 7.5% - value of goods on the local market = it is theoretically set after inquiry on the market - legal fine = value of goods on the local market x 2 - transactional fine = fees and taxes x 2

If owners decide to settle the matter amicably, only payment of the transactional fine is due. It is an official fine against payment of which a receipt in due form is issued by the customs authorities.

3. When payment of the fine is due and by whom ?

Since customs fines have become one of the main sources of income for local public finances, their quick, not to say urgent, payment is required by the customs authorities from the time the statement of offence levying the fine is notified to agents.

In accordance with the local law, the agents are the representatives of the owners. As such, they are liable for payment of the fine imposed on any ship on which the operations have been carried out under their responsibility.

The customs authorities have the power to compel shipping agents to pay the fine quickly. When the customs authorities note that the agents "drag their feet", they do not hesitate to refuse to deal with the concerned agents’ files ( demands of clearance for other ships and cargoes etc....) until the fine is paid. The agents have therefore an interest in settling the fine as a matter of urgency. For that reason the local agents require cash security. Only some of them accept exceptionally an LOU from specific companies which they trust.

If owners do not deal with the agent’s request for security in time, the agent’s strategy is to refrain from issuing the ship's clearance. Without this document, the ship cannot get the Harbour Master's authorisation and assistance to sail.

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