As can be read in a previous post, we decided to ship our camper van to Mexico using a RoRo ship, mainly because sea containers are in more demand because of increased trade during Covid, and because handling / clearing would be more swift compared to containers.
Well, it did not prove to be so easy and swift. Despite the fact that “world renowned” shipping lines were used. In our case the shipping line was Hoegh Autoliners, registered in Norway. Because of the Norwegian flag I expected clear and punctual sailing behaviour, but nevertheless, our ship was floating around aimlessly part of the time while it was underway, finally resulting in two days delay at the port of Veracruz. And although our shipper stated that they have “35 years experience in RoRo shipping and logistics” I did not have the impression that this was truly the case. During the entire process I felt I had to ask about procedures or information before receiving them. Or maybe they have experience on the shipping side, but not so much on the customer side. Or perhaps I was thinking to far ahead.
Dropping off the camper in Port of Antwerp
Because the last few days before reaching Antwerp we would not have good access to internet, I asked Caravanshippers beforehand about the last info and confirmation where to deliver the camper. They responded with a new delivery address (a different terminal – it can happen) but they failed to give the name of a local contact person we could ask for. Later we found out that Caravanshippers did send the name of the contact person in a later mail, but for us it was too late; we did not receive it in time. Also we found out that the shipping schedule was delayed – this can happen, but this was already the 2nd time.
In the terminal area, only after asking three times where we should go, and after calling caravanshippers (they did not answer at first), one hour later an employee (thank you, unknown employee!) gave us a simple copied map of the gates, explaining instantly where we should go….
Finally at the gates the process was clear and reasonably swift, again because a very helpful employee explained to us what needed to be done: scanning and weighing the van, put stickers with barcodes on it, wait for a shuttle to follow it to the assigned parking space and a lift back to the gate with the same shuttle.
The van was delivered in time in Antwerp, but why the rush: The shipping schedule was changed -again- and was delayed for 2 days. But finally the van was loaded on board: we received a Bill of Lading (BL) to prove it.
Arrival in Veracruz, Mexico
As the ship was sailing towards Veracruz, It was, despite some previous hold-ups, right on schedule and almost within sight but most likely there was no free space in port (another RoRo was delayed?) and on top of that strong winds prevented the Hoegh Yokohama from entering port. In fact all operations were stopped. This can happen. The ship took position about 10 miles out and circled around in a waiting area with an average of 2 knots until it was Monday afternoon. Suddenly it had made a dash to port and surprised us all.
Before going to Latin America we were already warned that the working pace differs a little bit compared to what we are used to. You can guess quite safely that most things in Latin America go at a slower pace. Not faster. Mexico certainly seems to be a fine example that really lives up to this statement as will become clear later on. Anyway, to get the vehicle on the road, some things needed to be done:
- Revalidating the shipment
- Temporary Import Permit
- Vehicle inspection (Customs)
- Car Insurance
- Getting out of port (Customs – again)
Beforehand Caravanshippers had told us to be in port about 3-5 working days before arrival to make contact with the local customs agent. That was an unnecessary request, because all I had to do until 2 days after arrival of the vessel was: placing one autograph on a document that was copied more than once (a digital autograph would have sufficed) and secondly they gave the specification of the bill. That could have been done by mail too. Ninety percent (90%) of communication was digital anyway (mail, whatsapp). In retrospect it was not needed to be in port so much in advance.
Now, in Mexico there is a company called Altamaritima, and they have somewhat of a monopoly position in port: they “take care of managing all operations in Mexican ports, as well as assisting ships during their stopovers.” And: “We are responsible for ensuring coordination with the terminals, as well as stevedoring companies and any other service required by the ships.” In our case they are the company that needed to do the revalidation, and we needed that piece of paper to do the rest of the process. So, in essence, our (and any) customs agent is dependent on this company. And Altamaritima made sure we knew it. Every request to revalidate was bounced back, either because:
- The ship had not arrived
- The work shift had not started
- The ship had not left the port
- The request was missing a stamp
Altamaritima calls it “permanent dialogue with customs agents”. In reality our customs agent (Rodall Oseguera) was doing the permanent communication by making valid requests time and time again. Or… I must have interpreted this wrong altogether, and it is the postponing of requests that creates this permanency: we could go on forever like this. Welcome to the Mañana Country.
But finally on Tuesday evening around 00:38 (yes, past midnight) this spell was broken. An approved revalidation was sent and with this hurdle taken we could go to the Banjercito for a Temporary Import Permit for the campervan.
Temporary Import Permit
Wednesday at around 10:30 an employee of the customs agent took me to the Banjercito bank. This is a bank for (and from) the military. It is heavily guarded by marines (with semi-automatic rifles and enough extra magazines to start a small war). Of course you are not allowed to take pictures there. In fact, people inside the building who eyed their mobile phone just a tad too long, were kindly asked to stop doing that. It made the wait extra long. We had to wait about 45 minutes outside, then about 2.5 hrs inside before it was our turn. The paperwork took some time as well, and when it was time to sign off, I noticed that we were granted a six months TIP. Beforehand we were promised that it would be a TIP with a validity of 10 years, which is standard in Mexico if it is a campervan. Or motorhome as they call it. I mentioned that the TIP period was too short, and the Banjercito employee said that it was not a camper, “it is too small to be a camper”. I was a bit baffled by this remark, how could she know this without seeing the vehicle? Besides that, all the papers stated it was a motorhome. Then they asked pictures and I showed them. There was some internal debate, and I explained the Dutch car document to show that it was officially a camper. I also showed a taxation report, but it was all futile: the floor manager had made the decision already and there was no stepping back. Also, it was nearing 15:00 (or 3:00pm as locals note it) which meant that the bank would close. We returned to the customs agent office and discussed our options. The director of “our” customs office (Rodall Oseguera) decided that he would ask again at the Bajercito, but one executive level higher, to see what could be done. After all, our vehicle is officially a motorhome. Nevertheless, this 6-month TIP made it possible to arrange the next step, a vehicle inspection.
Thursday just before 2 o’clock in the afternoon I received a message that we would have the vehicle inspection on Friday morning, 9:30. Sadly there was no solution yet to obtain an 10-year TIP. Since this inspection was early, I decided to pack everything and leave the hotel. Maybe I was lucky an could leave port this same day?
Vehicle Inspection in port
So I went to the office of the clearing agent where I got a permit to access the port and also a nice orange vest to blend in between all the other port employees. We drove to the main entrance and after a safety check, similar to the airport I was cleared to enter. We drove on to the enclosed area where the van was parked. At first the view was blocked by a long freight train, but then it was possible to see the parking area.
Roberto, the blue camper of a French couple we met in the Port of Antwerp, was there as well. I had to wait for the responsible customs person before I was allowed to enter the area, but from a distance the van looked good, nothing was missing. Upon approaching I noticed that the screens of the rear windows were away; they were lying on the floor of the van, and then I saw that it was a bit of a mess inside. I do not know how, but clearly someone had been inside. And all the safety measures we took were still there! Everything inside the van seemed to be turned inside and out. I could not really evaluate the entire damage or theft yet, because the customs officer was more concerned about any food that was inside the van, and, sadly also the cat food that was still in original packages. All food had to be removed. Always nice that there is a ”helpful” government employee around to give you that extra kick when you are already down. It is supposedly burned, but I doubt they do that. Anyway, it is all such a waste of time, money and goods. About the theft: at this moment I suspect that it is most likely the Port of Antwerp where they broke into the car: for the last two weeks I received a lot of messages on a dedicated facebook page that on the same route this happened to at least 50% of the campers. Different shippers, different routes but the one thing in common was: Port of Antwerp. Of course the shipping line can not be ruled out completely because there is ample time to do such things when at sea.
Two things I know for sure already: the base of the bed is wrecked because of the theft, and for sure a cycling wheel hub has been stolen. I suspect more small items are missing but I was not given the time to find out. Why not? This vehicle inspection does not mean that you are automatically released from port. It needs to be validated (again? yes – this can happen) and after that you receive final clearance. Sometimes the same day (they say – but don’t count on it) otherwise the next working day. Well. I had to go back to office and wait, but by the end of the day (a Friday) it was clear that I would have to wait until Monday.
So, I went back to the hotel and booked for another three nights… Adding it all together I was now waiting exactly 2 two weeks to get our vehicle back…
In summary: don’t rush to port of arrival, likely there is a delay of some kind. Expect that in Mexico (and possibly in all Latin America) each task takes one day. Even if it is just an autograph or stamp. How did it all add up?
- I planned to arrive 3 days before arrival of ship.
- Then the schedule was changed and ship would arrive 2 days later
- Then the port was full and strong winds caused 2 days delay
- Then the unloading would take place during a late shift, not the day shift, luckily the same day
- Then we had to wait 1 day for Altamaritima for revalidating (the ship had to leave port?)
- Then we did not receive the correct TIP permit (1 day)
- Then we had to wait for an appointment to do the vehicle inspection (1 day)
- Then we had the vehicle inspection (1 day)
- Then we had to wait for confirmation of the vehicle inspection (3 days, because of weekend)
So, lets hope that Monday I can be on my way to reunite with Marcia and Binkie. And find out what is missing exactly and if I can repair the bed.
To be continued…