Balikbayan Insights

Today we took a trip to Memphis to VGM Food and Deli, a Filipino run business offering Filipino dry goods, food stuffs, a Filipino deli and restaurant, and balikbayan shipping services. My wife has been an shipping agent for these folks for some time, but today we decided to get two newly packed boxes off quickly so that they would arrive close to the same time we arrive in Samar, in about 57 days (more or less). So we delivered them to Memphis ourselves.

While my wife was cohorting around the store, I enjoyed a discussion with Butch (one of the owner’s husbands) about the BB shipping process and the difficulties that the BB industry is facing. We eventually landed on the topic of success rates of BB’s arriving at their final destination, intact. Butch explained how he and his shipping broker recently became aware of an issue that had not been widely known until recently. The issue was the increasing occurance of missing items from BB’s at the final destination, which Butch and his shipping broker recently experienced first hand as they became victims themselves. After investigating and evaluating their entire shipping process, they discovered where the problem lay. America!

I recently wrote another post about Understanding BB Shipping and the ins-outs of the process. Now more blanks can be filled in about the questions of boxes arriving at their final destination intact and or not, and with missing items. A couple of years ago,  U.S. Customs and Homeland Security teamed up and conduct inspection and search operations jointly. When a shipping container packed with goods arrives by either rail or truck to the shipping port, these containers are X-rayed and, if identified as suspect, they are searched. When a container is identified for inspection of suspicious contents, the process of emptying the container is contracted out to a “third party”. It is the contractor that actually unpacks the container and presents the contents for inspection. What happens from that point is a box can be subjected to a simple “probing” to a “full” inspection. A full inspection consists of laying the box on it’s side, and cutting an large “X” across the face of the carton creating 4 triangular flaps. This allows the flaps of the box to be lifted allowing full access to the contents of the box. Upon completion of the search, the flaps are closed and taped closed with Customs tape. The re-sealing of the box is the problem. Since the U.S. government is not in the business of shipping, there is little concern for the security of the contents after the fact. If these boxes were over-packed to begin with, there is no way that two narrow strips of tape will contain the contents in the box. Like a childs “Jack-in-the-Box” toy, some of these boxes have a tendancy to “pop” open. If you have ever seen how much stuff a Filipina packs into these boxes you will understand. As as the box is again handled, moved around and repacked into the container by the contractor, contents can be spilled or the box itself can be easily accessed by anyone desiring to play a little grab-bag! So it has been identified that the real problem of break-in and or theft of a BB’s contents is taking place right here in good ole America, and not in the Philippines as long thought.

Subject to 100% Inspection

Subject to 100% Inspection

An agreement between the Philippines and U.S. Government to help prevent the export of terrorism  and illegal items to the Philippines exists and allows for inspection of 100% of all goods shipped from the U.S. to the Philippines. Butch determined that if their containers are moved westward (as opposed to being shipped from the east coast) and shipped from Long Beach, the incidence of both inspection and theft activity increases dramatically. Reason: Long Beach is basically a larger and more systemic operation and is the best equipped operation in the country. All the other shipping facilities in the country are not as well equipped as Long Beach and therefore experience lower incidences of inspections. Butch also suggested that differences in search/inspection tempos between the east and west coasts might be attributed to “politics” or are quota related.

He also explained that because the unpacking and packing of containers is conducted by this third party, he gets charged for the process of labor. Such inspections are not free. The government is in the inpsection business only, not employing laborers, so they simply bill the shipping originator for the expense. The more intrusion and searches conducted, the more it costs the shipper. Butch told me that his last three brokered shipments through the Port of Long Beach cost him dearly, barely breaking even. Balikbayan box companies can pay from $1,500 up to $5,000 for each container that is inspected. This is an average of $10 additional expense per box. So Butch and his operation has been taking their operation eastward and as a consequence, have had more success, with less intrusion into the shipments, and a return to profitability.

Taking the long route!

Taking the long route!

So our boxes will be headed east, and will take approximately 10 extra days in transit, but that’s okay with me. We may be in a big hurry to get there personally, but we would really like to see the boxes that we shipped completely intact. We have nothing to hide, but going east, we have better odds of seeing all our things again, in whole, and not in part!

Watch this 2010 News Video which might help clarify some of the delays and inspections (in Taglish).

One thought on “Balikbayan Insights

  1. Luckily we have not had a problem with losing anything, but I can see where such neglect could make that happen. I too would not mind the extra 10 days as long as it is all intact. The boxes never arrive on time anyway, so I’m just waiting until they arrive, whenever.

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