More recent easing of prices likely to bring down surcharges beginning in October; shipping lines hold firm on floating bunker contract terms.
Container lines in the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement (TSA) have confirmed that their floating bunker fuel surcharge, adjusted monthly according to a formula that tracks world fuel prices at key loading locations, will spike to a record level effective September 1. The higher surcharge reflects record fuel prices that topped $767 per ton in mid-July, up from $500 at the beginning of 2008 and $296 at the beginning of 2007.
Responding to questions that have been raised as to why the bunker charge is increasing at a time when fuel prices have been falling, N.Y.K. Line vice president and TSA revenue policy committee member Bill Payne emphasized that each month’s surcharge reflects average fuel prices during a reporting period 30-60 days earlier. This is done to comply with U.S. law requiring a minimum 30 days’ advance notice to the market in the event a particular rate or surcharge is to be raised. “Carriers pay the higher fuel costs out of pocket as those costs rise, cushioning the impact on shippers, and then must pass them through after the fact,” Payne said. “The good news with a floating formula is that, as prices fall, customers will start to see savings 30 to 60 days out.”
The TSA surcharge is posted by the carrier group as a guideline for the market, but service contracts with customers – including bunker surcharge terms – are addressed individually by the lines. APL senior vice president Bob Sappio, also an RPC committee member, noted that while carriers and shippers have made significant progress in agreeing on a floating fuel surcharge, much more work remains. “If people think the high price of fuel is temporary they are mistaken”, Sappio said. “The transpacific trade is simply not sustainable as it is presently constituted; carriers must recover a greater percentage of actual dollars spent on fuel.”