When a family moved from Tokyo to Maryland, their furniture didn’t make it until NBC4 Responds investigated.
Amiee and Ariel Aquino hired a Tokyo shipping company to move them back to the United States.
“He really wanted our business,” Amiee said.
They paid Tokyo Express $11,000 upfront.
“There was no red flag,” Amiee said.
A few days later, employees showed up and packed up their entire house and shipped the container to the company's American shipping partner WSI Vanline in California.
“Three days before we were going to close on our home, which was on April 14, they tell me that they cannot deliver our household goods,” Amiee said.
She said WSI told them they hadn’t been paid by Tokyo Express.
She said her frantic phone calls and emails to Tokyo Express went unreturned, as did her calls to government agencies.
“We contacted the embassy,” she said. “We contacted the U.S. Department of State.
They spent weeks living in an empty house with their 4 year old.
“At work, I couldn't focus,” Amiee said. “I couldn't really be effective in my job. We were just so consumed by thinking about every possibility out there.”
NBC4 Responds got an immediate response from the owner of Tokyo Express, who said in an email he admitted his company was short on cash and couldn't immediately pay the California company to release the Aquinos’ goods.
So NBC4 Responds turned to the Federal Maritime Commission, which regulates the U.S. international ocean transportation system and helps resolve disputes. A week later, a moving truck arrived at the Aquinos’ Frederick home with their furniture and other belongings.
NBC4 Responds learned that while a non-U.S.-based entity is not required to be licensed with the FMC, many are. Tokyo Express is not.
The FMC said it is "reviewing the facts brought to its attention ... If the review uncovers potential violations of the Shipping Act, further investigation may be warranted."
WSI Vanline never responded to requests for a statement. WSI isn’t licensed with FMC, either.
The FMC offered the following steps to take when planning an international move:
First, make sure you are doing business with a company that is licensed and/or registered by the Federal Maritime Commission. This can be done very quickly by checking the agency’s “Ocean Transportation Intermediaries List.”
People should be certain to search, using the name of the moving company, under both the “Ocean Freight Forwarders” and “NVOCCs” tabs. If the company does not show up in either one of these searches, then they are not a licensed, bonded, regulated entity and consumers should avoid using them.
Purchasing insurance is always advisable. While FMC licensed and registered companies maintain surety bonds, in a case where there are multiple claimants seeking to recover against a single bond, there simply may not be sufficient funds to compensate all parties.
Additional information about moving internationally can be found on the Commission’s website.
Finally, the Commission has an “Office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services” (CADRS) which can provide some assistance to shippers with complaints about their international moving experience. CADRS provides a first stop for individuals with issues related to international oceanborne cargo movements. CADRS provides tips and best practices for arranging a move; information about ways to address shipping problems; and assists customers and moving companies resolve their disputes on a voluntary and confidential basis. There is no fee for these services. CADRS can be contacted by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For shippers in the United States, there is a toll free number they can use: 866-448-9586.