No matter the circumstances, we will aim to deliver the same high levels of service our members have come to expect from the TT Club.
Central to the TT Club’s Business Continuity arrangements is our ability to work remotely. Our Shanghai and Hong Kong offices have been able to work from home fully and effectively since the start of the outbreak in January, allowing normal business operations to continue. While our UK and US-based offices continue to work remotely, our Hong Kong offices has fully reopened, with our Shanghai offices still functioning at 50/50. From early July our Sydney office will reopen at 50/50 capacity also.
The health and wellbeing of our employees and clients remains Thomas Miller’s highest priority. Only those wishing to return to working from the office will be doing so for the time being and we will be continuing to practice social distancing by limiting the number of employees in the office at any one time. No external visitors will be permitted.
Regardless of whether our offices are working remotely, full open or open at 50% capacity, we will still be providing the same high levels of service our members have come to expect from the TT Club. If you need to get in touch with us urgently - particularly out of office hours - we recommend calling your Club contact directly, rather than relying on email. Contact details, including mobile phone numbers for our employees are available on the Club website here.
Maintaining service standards
How do I best handle enquiries from my customers about delayed shipments?
Stakeholders are likely to face a number of associated challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and each business will face unique issues to satisfy their operational requirements. Consider the following suggestions:
- Restructuring of operational teams
- Ensuring those with specific skills are spread over different shifts to provide cover
- Alternating shift patterns
- Working with labour pools to ensure that temporary workers are sufficiently trained and qualified to join the workforce when required
- Increasing the number of ‘tool box’ talks to highlight and address topical issues (consider undertaking these over video conference to avoid the need to meet physically)
- Planning increased time for shift changeovers to allow for additional cleaning or sanitising of equipment
Stakeholders should remain mindful that this period is likely to be finite and therefore should develop a robust plan to return operations to “normal” protocol once able to do so.
Given the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, should I be actively taking on new orders from our customers?
This is a commercial decision for each stakeholder to consider. Stakeholders should be mindful of regional operational challenges, applicable restrictions and governmental directions and plan accordingly. Where possible, setting expectations with customers at the outset would be prudent to avoid commercial friction in the event that issues are experienced.
Where new customers are concerned, stakeholders should have robust due diligence processes in place and ensure that these processes are rigorously maintained.
There is arguably a heightened importance in ensuring that STC’s are sufficiently incorporated into all new service or transport contracts. Equally, review contractual conditions to ensure that your business is able to deliver the required level of performance in the current circumstances.
What options are available to overcome the challenge of securing a signature on delivery paperwork that social distancing presents?
Social distancing practices mandated by many governments and/or adopted by consignees may prove problematic when it comes to having delivery paperwork signed. Whilst practicing good hygiene, it may still be possible to leave the paperwork in a defined location/desk with the person in charge at the delivery point and they sign it and allow the driver to collect it once the they have vacated the area. Alternatively, it may be possible to have the proof of delivery signed by the delivery point, scanned and emailed. Similarly, delivery paperwork could be emailed to the consignee ahead of the delivery (rather than taken by the driver), enabling the consignee to arrange for the proof of delivery to be signed, scanned and returned electronically.
Taking no action to obtain a proof of delivery should be avoided where ever practicable. Engagement with national industry associations is recommended to understand whether accepted alternative practices have been adopted/agreed.
Our usual courier services are not available. How can we ensure original documents arrive with the consignee on time?
“Courier services we ordinarily use to ensure that original documents (bills of lading) arrive with the consignee in a timely manner are not always available. Cargo has arrived at the destination port, but we are unable to release against the original bill of lading where we cannot physically get the document to the correct party. What are my options?”
This challenge is likely to become frequent during this period in certain jurisdictions, depending on how extreme the mandated lockdown is enforced and the precise manner of release at the destination port. Where there is no reasonably practicable means of ensuring that the original documents reach the intended recipient in order to release the cargo at the port of discharge, all interested parties (including banks where a letter of credit is involved) should explore the options and mutually agree on an acceptable solution.
Potential problems arise in this scenario because of the unique role played by a bill of lading in determining ownership of the cargo. Delivery to a party not holding an original bill of lading is effectively a breach of contract. If cargo is released to a party without an original bill of lading, the rightful owner and holder of the original bill of lading could later demand delivery of the cargo. In such circumstances, the legal holder of the bill of lading can sue the carrier, or the party who has wrongfully delivered the cargo. The legal holder of the bill of lading could be the shipper, the receiver, a bank, or another party to whom the bill of lading has been negotiated.
It is vital to identify the rightful holder of the bill of lading and that obtain their express permission to release the cargo. This could, for instance, involve agreement to accept a defaced/endorsed electronic scanned copy of the original bill of lading with a commitment to collect the original documents when possible to do so. A letter of indemnity (LOI) is another option, but it is likely that similar challenges around obtaining the original copy of an LOI will be faced.
Given the potential exposures, releasing cargo without the original bill of lading should happen only in exceptional circumstances. Carriers, NVOCs and forwarders are urged to implement appropriate processes and controls. Do not allow a temporarily agreed practice to become an accepted norm.
How do I best handle enquiries from my customers about delayed shipments?
Each claim issue be assessed on its individual merits. The applicable contract should be reviewed to understand what your obligations are with regard to meeting delivery dates. In most cases, provided that they are sufficiently incorporated, terms under the applicable bill of lading or STC's should contain a clause providing protection with regard to delay of shipments in transit.
It is recommended that stakeholders actively seek open lines of communication with customers at an early stage to provide transparency in relation to potential delays and issues in transit in order to set realistic expectations and address any specific operational challenges which may be caused by a delayed delivery.