By Alexander Whiteman

Maersk Line has warned shippers that some cargo will be re-routed or diverted to avoid strikes in Spanish ports. In response to the labour disputes in Spanish ports, the carrier will divert westbound services to avoid Algeciras.

Members of the International Dockworkers Union will strike every other day between 6 and 25 March following the Spanish government’s decision to alter legislation and adhere to the EU Treaty’s freedom of establishment principle. A spokesperson advised: “As a customer of Spanish ports, highly dependent on undisrupted terminal operations, Maersk Line hoped for a positive solution to the dispute and has been committed to a constructive dialogue with all parties. Regretfully, stevedores’ unions have announced a series of strikes.”

Under current Spanish law, all dockworkers must be members of stevedoring societies, known as Sociedad Anonima de Gestion de Estibadores Portuarios (Sageps), which recruit and train port workers before making them available to terminal and cargo operators. The European Court of Justice ruled that this limits employer options for sourcing workers, and last July levied a €15.6m fine on Spain’s government, adding a €134,000 daily penalty until amendments are made.However, the International Dockworkers Community (IDC) argued that the Spanish government sought to make the change without consultation.

Maersk said it would re-route vessels from Algeciras to other facilities in the Mediterranean where it has secured capacity. Eastbound services and transhipment connections will continue to call at the Spanish port. The carrier said some shippers may experience vessel re-routing, port omissions and additional transhipment of cargo.

“Kindly note that this is an exceptional situation and contingency plans may be subject to change due to urgent or unforeseen circumstances,” added the line. “We remain committed to providing … timely updates and will continue to do so as the situation develops and as soon as new information is available.”

Hapag-Lloyd has announced that it is applying an emergency congestion surcharge to all shipments from or to Spanish ports from March 6. Meanwhile, the German carrier has also warned that while industrial action in Gothenburg has ended, the “negative impact” from the Dockworkers’ Union strike continues and it has diverted its Gothenburg express service to Varberg until further notice. “Overtime work at the terminal is still voluntary and there is currently quite a high rate of absence,” said the carrier in a statement.

“A high-level meeting last week between terminal management and the IDC ended without any results, therefore we are expecting more notices of strikes and blockades.”

The carrier added it could not “under any circumstances” absorb any additional costs arising from the situation in Gothenburg, advising shippers to book “as much cargo as possible via Vargberg” to ease the situation and avoid the risk of waiting-time, short-shipment and storage costs. The carrier’s Loop 7 and Sweden Denmark Express services will still call at Gothenburg, while calls to Helsingborg and Halmstad are not affected.

The action in Spain and Sweden has been supported by U.S. International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Vice-President Kenneth Riley, who visited the ports last week to “build solidarity” and boost his own call for action at American east coast ports. However, ILA President Harold Daggett this week countered Mr. Riley’s calls and urged members not to engage in any work stoppage or any other violations of the ILA’s current master contract.

“We hear your anger, we hear your frustration and we intend to address it,” said Mr. Daggett. “With a delegation of ILA leaders, I will be heading to Washington to seek help for our industry from Congress. “I am confident Congress will understand the urgency of our issues and help us resolve all problems.”

Mr. Riley has called for a shutdown of U.S. east coast ports in protest over mounting jobs losses and ongoing interference by the South Carolina Port Authority – Mr. Riley also presides over the ILA Local 1422 Charleston South Carolina – and the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbour. He initially called for east coast ILA dockworkers to march on Washington on 27 February to vent their displeasure at practices that “deliberately reduced dockworker numbers”. This date was pushed back by a “week or so”, with Mr. Riley telling The Loadstar the postponement had been made to “educate rank and file members” and industry stakeholders.

Asked by The Loadstar if Mr. Daggett had given his support to the planned protest, Mr. Riley said they had not consulted the national branch of the ILA, noting that “this was a rank and file decision”.

Reprinted courtesy of The Loadstar (