Egypt in turmoil – the practical and legal implications for trade and shipping

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The widespread rioting and civil unrest in Egypt has been extensively reported by the world's media. But how have the week's events affected trade and what are the legal implications for traders? This article aims to provide an overview of the situation at the time of writing and will address some of the important legal issues that traders are likely to face in the immediate future.

Background

In the past week, Egypt has been struck by increasingly violent public disturbances, in commercial centres such as Cairo and throughout the country.

Aside from the obvious damage to life, property and infrastructure, these disturbances have had a serious impact on trade and shipping.

In particular, fear of violence, widespread disruption to public transport and on Egypt's roads, a curfew between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. and organised strike action mean that many Egyptians either cannot or will not go to work. As a consequence, essential public and commercial services have been disrupted and/or rendered unavailable.

Specifically:

1. Whilst Egypt's ports remain officially open, operations have been hampered by a lack of stevedores, pilots and machine operators as well as port and customs officials. As a result, loading and discharge operations are seriously delayed, vessels cannot obtain necessary supplies and essential import and export licences are not being issued.

At the time of writing, the worst-affected port appears to be Alexandria, which handles more than 60% of Egypt's foreign trade, although severe delays have been reported at all of Egypt's ports, including Ports Said and Damietta. The disruption has mainly affected bulk and container operations, however, and so far Egypt's oil and gas terminals are said to be fully operational. The Suez Canal has remained open under military supervision throughout the week's disturbances (although transiting vessels are subject to some delays) but overland transit by road and rail has been badly affected so that goods cannot easily be moved to and from the ports.

2. Payment and communications systems have been disrupted, due to a lack of manpower but also as a result of systems outages and widespread interference with telephone and internet services

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