World’s two largest container lines join growing list of carriers suspending all cargo bookings to and from the country following its invasion of Ukraine and implementation of widespread sanctions, with the Maersk suspension also including air and intercontinental rail shipments
Will Waters

The world’s two largest container lines, Maersk and MSC, have joined a growing list of major international carriers suspending cargo bookings to and from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine and the implementation of widespread sanctions in response to the unprovoked attack on its neighbour.

And the suspension by Maersk also includes air and intercontinental rail shipments to and from Russia, with the exception of foodstuffs, and medical and humanitarian supplies, as concerns about safety and the breadth of sanctions mount.

MSC said its suspension would take immediate effect from 1 March, “with a temporary stoppage on all cargo bookings to/from Russia, covering all access areas including Baltics, Black Sea and Far East Russia”. But the line said it will continue to accept and screen bookings for delivery of essential goods such as food, medical equipment and humanitarian goods.

The moves follow similar suspensions by Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd the prevous week and One Network Express the previous day.

Maersk’s parent organisation A.P. Moller-Maersk today said it was “deeply concerned by how the crisis keeps escalating in Ukraine”, and it was “closely following the ever-evolving situation with governments posing new sanctions against Russia and the regular adjustments that are being made to the list of restrictions.

“With that in mind, we now see the clear need to establish new and revise existing processes of accepting and handling bookings. We are also starting to see the effect on global supply chain flows such as delays and detention of cargo by customs authorities across various transhipment hubs – overall resulting in unpredictable operational impacts.”

Stability and safety priority

The company continued: “As the stability and safety of our operations is already being directly and indirectly impacted by sanctions, new Maersk bookings within ocean, air and intercontinental rail to and from Russia will be temporarily suspended, with the exception of foodstuffs, medical and humanitarian supplies (bar dual-use items).  This exception is to underline that our company is focusing on social responsibility and making the efforts to support society despite all the complications and uncertainties within the current supply chain to/from Russia. The suspension will begin today and cover all Russian gateway ports.”

Maersk said its decisions during this crisis had been with employee safety and customer supply chains in mind, “and these will continue to be our top priorities in light of the newest developments. We will also continue to put plans in place so that all affected employees and their families get the support needed.”

Supply chain disruptions

The company also emphasised that it was “key for Maersk that we minimise supply chain disruption and do not add to the global congestion in ports and depots. For cargo already underway and bookings placed before this suspension was announced, we will do our utmost to deliver it to its intended destination. Consequently, we will still call Russia, although we will not accept new bookings unless they belong in the exception categories mentioned above.

“However, please expect significant delays as countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany are holding back vessels en route to Russia in search of restricted commodities, primarily dual-use items. The inspections of export and transhipment cargo bound for Russia are related to implementing procedures to comply with sanctions and export controls recently imposed by different jurisdictions.”

Ripple effects across the regional ocean network

Maersk said its teams were in constant contact with the local customs and port authorities to speed up the release of all goods not impacted by sanctions and export controls, giving priority to humanitarian items such as foods, medicines and hygiene and personal care. But it said “the delays are expected to have ripple effects across the regional ocean network, resulting in further delays and congestion”.

The line added: “As Maersk acts in full compliance with legal regulations and its policies, we cannot receive from or make payments to any sanctioned Russian banks, or any other sanctioned party. Giving you the best ability to manage your supply chain is of the utmost importance to us and we are working to give you everything you need to run your global logistics in these circumstances. We will keep monitoring the situation and reviewing impacts from sanctions, with an ambition to stabilise operations as quickly as we can.”

MSC said it “has been closely monitoring the advice from governments about new sanctions, following the February 2022 conflict in Ukraine, and has been operating shipping and inland services to and from Russia in full compliance with international sanctions measures, applicable to it. MSC will contact customers directly, as necessary, in respect of any Russia-related cargo that is already in transit.”

In a Customer Advisory notice on 24 September, Ocean Network Express said that the recent developments in Ukraine and Russia meant its “operations in the area are disrupted and our ability to complete the carriage of consignments to some destinations is, or is likely to become, obstructed”. As a result, “booking acceptance to and from Odessa, Ukraine and Novorossiysk, Russia is to be suspended with immediate effect until further notice. Booking acceptance to and from St Petersburg, Russia is suspended with immediate effect until further notice whilst we evaluate the operational feasibility.”

The Japanese line said it was “working tirelessly to find solutions for those consignments currently on the water. ONE will continue to provide updates on any further adjustments to our services to and from the impacted locations as the situation develops.”

But the line stressed that “the ongoing safety and wellbeing of ONE’s employees and associates in the region is of great importance and concern. Currently ONE’s representatives in the region are safe and continue to work remotely.”

Hapag-Lloyd said “the current situation in Ukraine and Russia has led to changes in the operational outlook” for the two countries, implementing a booking stop for Ukraine and a temporary booking suspension for Russia. In cases where the shipments were already en route to Ukraine or Russia, it stressed that its teams were working to assist customers.