Mexican Customs demand cement sale

Mexican Customs demand cement sale
Published: 29 November 2004

As part of its convoluted legal manoeuvrings, the Mexican Customs authorities are now demanding that the 27,000t of cement from the Mary Nour be discharged into customs protection and then sold on the local market under its own jurisdiction, with the ship also having to post a US$2m bond as security.  The Customs has decreed that the seizure of Russian cement that the company Comercio para el Desarrollo Mexicano (CDM) tried to import into the country was done correctly and will eventually be upheld in  the courts.

To recap, CDM and the Spanish company Tradeland Commodities tried to bring the cement into the country in July, but into the nearby port of Tampico. They were initially forbidden to enter the port because of a rather contrived Cemex embargo (which was subsequently over-ruled by the Mexican courts). The ship was diverted into the neighbouring port of Altamira but in so doing, entered a port that was not permitted to handle cement and thus in effect broke the law.

Thus,  a couple of weeks after the ship arrived in Altamira, while awaiting the above Tampico court ruling, local Customs then informed the ship’s master that the cement had been seized "because the importers of Russian cement made a mistake". Gerardo Z Pacheco, administrator of Customs in Altamira, said that the boat lacked Article 151 of the Customs Law as it docked in a controlled area that did not have authorisation for imports and handling of cement.

More legal rulings are expected this week on the validity of the Customs claim, but on the basis of this latest news suggests that the ship will have to discharge its cargo and post a US$2m bond to secure its release. The cement will be sold by the authorities for whatever price they can get and if the Customs finally win the case they will presumably keep the proceeds after deducting the bond payment and any fines they will levy on the ship, and the receivers CDM. If the ship wins, the ships owners and importers will presumably have all the proceeds of the sale and the bond returned to them, taking into account any customs expenses.

Canacem, representing Cemex, Apasco, Moctezuma and Cruz Azul are claiming this latest development as a significant victory but we are not convinced. CDM and CTI, are apparently even more determined to see the matter resolved in their favour and this action by the Customs at least gets the cement moving and into the local market. The US$2m bond if given the go-ahead is also not life threatening, given the stakes involved, and the Mary Nour (which has probably paid for herself five or six times over during her lengthy seagoing life) will be content to sit it out for whatever time it takes either back in Tampico or offshore in the Caribbean.

As the Mexican Customs themselves would suggest: the ship made a simple mistake, and from a distance, the Customs themselves look to have been unduly  pressurised into taking this rather draconian action. With the cement offloaded, and the Mexican courts expected to throw the whole case out of court, once it finally reaches the higher independent legal levels, the Mary Nour could well be back in business, having taken onboard a second transhipped cargo. Whether one is in favour or not, the barriers to cement imports into Mexico are beginning to show signs of advanced stress fatigue.