PROVIDER of insurance and related risk management services, the TT Club, has warned that the disruption to freight transport and supply chains resulting from the coronavirus will “continue to evolve on a daily basis”.

In a briefing compiled with the assistance of specialist international lawyers, HFW, the Club outlines how freight forwarders, logistics service providers and other intermediaries can protect themselves legally and minimise their liabilities, while still giving a quality service to their customers.

Restrictions due to labour shortages at ports and cancellations of inland transport links within China, constraints in the supply of goods due to factory closures and reduced schedules of air, ocean and rail carriers may expose forwarders to claims arising from delivery delays and cargo deterioration.

The TT Club briefing details these pitfalls and provides guidance on correct and comprehensive documentation handling. However, its underlying direction is to counsel transport operators to be proactive in their communication.

“In such disruptive situations, as the one the coronavirus has precipitated, both the value of the operator’s service to his customer and his protection against future liability claims lies in good, accurate communication,” the Club’s risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox said.

“Up-to-date status reports on their cargo’s progress, or lack of it, are vital to shippers.

“Forwarders and logistics operators will certainly prove their mettle if they can consistently make customers aware of the ongoing attempts to problem-solve.

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“Careful recording of communication trails detailing such actions will also help in any disputes in the future.”

In attempting to deliver such solutions, however, a forwarder may need to use routes, carriers or modes that are less familiar, or to partner with other actors, of whom he has no experience.  Such ‘workarounds’ are common at times of crisis when pressure from customers to deliver freight by whatever means can be intense. 

“Additional care and due diligence must be taken when working in unfamiliar environments. It might be necessary to take extra precautions in employing bills of lading, standard trading conditions, letters of indemnity and other means in order to protect the stakeholders from unforeseen costs and liabilities,” Mr Storrs-Fox said.

The briefing explains these risks and the steps that can be taken to keep them to a minimum. For example if force majeure notices are required to be sent, it must be ensured that these are fully understood by the recipient. In other cases, when delays or deviations are caused by matters genuinely outside the operator’s control, then these circumstances must be well documented.

“Common sense, proactive communication with counterparties as required and the adherence to good working practices will set operators in a better position to be protected in these abnormal circumstances,” Mr Storrs-Fox said.

“However, when stress can be heightened by unexpected pressures, it is useful to have guidelines that focus on the possibility of unusual risks, TT Club’s briefing seeks to provide such guidance.”

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