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World’s largest shipping companies suspend bookings to and from Russia

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Stacking containers on top of each other at the Commercial Port of Vladivostok, part of FESCO Group.
Yuri Smityuk | Tass | Getty Images

The world’s three largest container shipping lines have all temporarily suspended non-essential bookings to and from Russia, joining a fast-growing list of companies to shun Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Shipping giants including Switzerland-based MSC, Denmark’s Maersk and France’s CMA CGM all announced on Tuesday that they would halt cargo bookings to and from Russia until further notice.

The move exempted deliveries of essential supplies, such as food, medical equipment and humanitarian goods.

It comes as Russia intensifies its onslaught of key Ukrainian cities, with fighting raging in the north, east and south of the country. The United Nations says 1 million refugees from Ukraine have now fled to neighboring countries.

The confluence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the barrage of punitive Western sanctions has triggered a mass corporate exodus from Moscow.

MSC said on Tuesday that it was enforcing a temporary stoppage on all cargo bookings to and from Russia with immediate effect. The world’s largest shipping container line said this covers areas including the Baltics, Black Sea and Far East Russia.

Maersk said it was “deeply concerned by how the crisis keeps escalating in Ukraine.” The Copenhagen-headquartered firm had said earlier in the week that it was considering the suspension of all non-essential bookings to and from Russia.

“The ever-evolving situation with governments posing new sanctions against Russia and the regular adjustments that are being made to the list of restrictions” then prompted the company to announce the suspension of non-essential deliveries to and from Russia.

It explained the exception of essential deliveries was to show that the shipping giant was focused on social responsibility and “making the efforts to support society.”

Meanwhile, CMA CGM said on Tuesday that in the interest of safety it had taken the decision to suspend all bookings to and from Russia “as of today and until further notice.”

Container shipping companies play a pivotal role in global trade, carrying the bulk of the world’s manufactured goods. These steps taken by the world’s largest container shipping lines effectively cut Russia off from a large chunk of the world’s shipping capacity.

The escalating conflict and severity of the Russian sanctions are expected to have a significant impact on the shipping industry for some time.

“The market is scrambling to get to grips with what the sanctions mean in practice, and the steps they need to take,” Nick Austin, shipping partner at global law firm Reed Smith, said on Wednesday.

“Owners and charterers are looking closely at their fixtures to understand their legal rights under traditional ‘war clauses,'” he added. “But these provisions come in different shapes and sizes, and so need to be carefully reviewed.”

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