Saturday, 21 July 2012

Operation Bike Freedom

Lots of annoying stuff has happened this week! That shiny coating on Dubai/UAE has now been worn off to the point where I don't think I'd want to live here, or probably not even visit any more.

Before we left Dubai for Abu Dhabi last time we had handed the documents to get the motorbikes out of the port to the agents, the thinking here was that they would start the process on the Thursday before the weekend so when we get back on Sunday we can just waltz in and collect the bikes. Well, that never happened, but more on the things that went wrong for now.

We'd organised another place for couch surfing for the night we arrived back in Dubai as the German family we had stayed with before were now all going on holidays. We had to go back and see them as my renewed International Driving Licence had arrived finally (note to others: Don't send anything to Dubai). While there Drew's phone must have synced his email but it wasn't until we were about to return the rental car that we found out the couchsurfers we'd organised for that night could no longer host us. Oh well, back to plan b, off to the cheap hotel at Jebal Ali that's just outside the port where our bikes should appear.

On Sunday we phoned up the shipping agents office and got a vague barely English response of "My guy is in customs now, call back in one hour". Of course, after they insulted our English speaking ability I was not too sure what this meant and assumed they had only just started the customs paperwork that morning. So instead of wasting the morning we headed out to the Iranian Consulate to start that process. I got my visa submitted that morning but we didn't have enough cash to get Drew's in, which would mean another two visits to the consulate. While we were out I picked up everything I needed to service the bike in preparation for when it appears. Then once we got back to the hotel I phoned up the agents again to see what happened and they said they'd been trying to contact us all morning and that they needed us at customs to get the bike out... OK then, first we heard of it. We found they had been trying to email Drew in cryptic English later. We arranged to be at Customs the next morning at 8am.

Birthday Breakfast

So the next morning at 10am (my birthday) we walked over to the nearest building inside the free zone where the hotel receptionist told us we could find customs. Inside that building they told us to look for building 3... Wherever that was. After lots of stumbling round we found a taxi and instructed him to take us to customs in building 3. Well the taxi driver didn't know where that was but after lots of calls on the radio and phone he managed to get us to the trucking side of the customs building at gate 3 (ah..). The security guard told the driver off for being on the wrong side of the building and then told us he was trying to rip us off or something. Who knows, we paid what was on the meter and he didn't know where he was going, nothing we can do.

We went to the correct side of the building and tried to spot one of the three faces from the agents office, but they weren't around. After a process of half an hour trying to communicate what we needed we had managed to get hold of a phone and made a call to the office. They of course were angry at us and told us to call the number they had sent yesterday. We called that number and told him we were inside the customs office sitting at one of the counters, which confused him greatly, and then us. After another twenty minutes he turns up shakes hands and then leads us to the customs office on the outside of the free zone (UGH, BE CLEAR WITH WHERE WE HAVE TO BE). At the gate of course there was an issue because we didn't have security passes to be in the free zone, but easy hotel has an open gate and we were never hassled before about it.

Now that we were in the correct office they gathered all the documentation together, got a ticket and we waited. And waited. And waited some more. I think it was about an hour or more but the ticket was called and we went up to the desk. Immediately there was a problem as the customs officer recognised the agent from the day before. Well it turns out that the agent was told the previous day that he needed to have a letter from the shipping company stating he was representing us and also that the shipping company had failed to put our names anywhere on the delivery note. So hearing this I asked rather forcefully "You are our agent and we are paying you to do this for us, why are you not on top of this and why did you not correct the documents yesterday and instead drag us along today to waste our time?". Well the customs officer agreed with this and told him to go away.

We had successfully wasted a day and now it was too late to get to the Iranian consulate to move the visa process along a bit. We went back to the hotel and just wasted time on the internet for my birthday. Later in the afternoon I called the shipping agents office and asked them if they had corrected the delivery notification and typed up the letter, which they assured me they had and then told us it was our fault that we had not turned up the day before. I took issue with this and attempted to correct him but I guess he couldn't understand my language as it was growing ever more colourful at this point. I found out on the phone call that this was the first time they'd done this sort of delivery and that's why there were problems. They couldn't have told us that the week before? We would have got someone else. They told us to be at the customs office at 8am the next day.

The next day we turned up at the right customs office at 9am. Agent nowhere to be seen. Again we fumbled around trying to use the payphone and eventually someone offered their phone for us to use. We called the agent and he said he was on his way and he would be ten minutes.

Thirty minutes later he turns up, gets a ticket and waits in line. I alert him to our presence and then go through the documentation to make sure he has the two things the customs officer asked for. Some time later the number gets called and there's a bit of trouble at the desk again (same customs officer). They call me over and explain that we need insurance before we can get the bikes out. So, loudly again, I ask them why they couldn't tell us that the day before when we had nothing better to do. They say they forgot and they had told the agent the day before that we needed it but they didn't pass it on to us. We ask where we could do this and what we needed. The registration certificate was one of the things we needed but of course I left that back in the hotel assuming the agent would have been on top of the documentation required (me = idiot). Outside the agent gets his boss on the phone (the pleasant man that insults everyones English) and he hands the phone to me. The lovely chap says "You don't have insurance? Why don't you have insurance?". More colourful language later I explain to him that it's HIS JOB to let us know what we're supposed to have.


So we leave on a giant expensive taxi ride back to the hotel first, where I run up to the room and find the keycard doesn't work (day progressively gets worse). Another three elevator rides later I have my registration certificate and it's off to get some insurance. The driver and the agent are talking the entire time and after lots of taking the same road back and forth a few times we pull into a petrol station and the agent gets out and starts looking around. Well apparently this is not the right place and he makes another call and then we're off again. We keep asking we're were going but get no response. Then for some reason we end up at gate 7 of the free zone, about 20km from gate 3. Here the agent gets out, we ask what's going on and he says we have to get security passes to go in.


We could have done that at the other side of the free zone and we wouldn't have wasted an hour driving around in this stupid expensive taxi (but by no means expensive compared to Australia). We go in and pay for passes, which are fifteen dhirams, and we ask why it's 15 so the agent points at each of us in turn and says "five, five"... So that's ten then... We figure out later that we had paid for his gate pass. After all this hassle I tell him we are getting the bikes out today, no more screw ups, we need them out so we stop wasting days and money here.

So for the next half an hour we're trying to get a taxi. Eventually he manages to flag down some other car and they give us a lift up to the petrol station inside the free zone where we can get insurance, where we should have gone in the first place. Note that no money changed hands during this trip, it's important later.

We go inside and for some reason getting insurance takes all of 10 minutes and is very straight forward. Our minds blown we go outside and flag down another taxi to take us back to the customs building to get that part completed. The agent runs up to the desk of the customs officer and of course they tell him to go away and get a number (it's about lunch time after all). The supervisor calls me over after a bit and says we've been in so often lately and to go see the customs officer we saw before, the agent and I go over and the customs officer is not happy to see the again yet again and some words are exchanged and eventually the supervisor takes us over to his desk.

The supervisor starts going over all the documentation periodically looking madly at the agent and shaking his head about the way everything has been filled in. During this part he explains how having a good agent would be better, I tell him I know and that we won't be using these guys next time. He fails to see that this is a once off shipment. Then he hands over his card and says that he also has a customs clearing agency. I ask if this is a conflict of interest, which he ignores. He stamps the carnet and then tears both the import and export voucher out of the book. I explain that I actually need the export part for when I leave the UAE, to which he is very confused about (has anyone, anywhere in the UAE ever seen a carnet before?).

Eventually everything is stamped and we're good to go to get the bikes out. The agent leads us out of the office and explains that the truck will be arriving soon and asks if we want a drink. I decline because I hate the guy and don't want to be around him any more. So we wait around for half an hour and he comes to find us so we can go get the bikes. Or so we thought.

It's at this point he asks if we're going to pay him the ten dhirams he had to pay for the lift we got from some stranger to the insurance place. Knowing he didn't pay him anything I tell him we'll talk about it after he gives me the five dhirams for the security pass.

So this naturally leads into the next part where he says "You pay money now?". Of course we are confused as to what money he is talking about and then he goes on to mention that we agreed to some amount when we were in the office last Wednesday... Well no we didn't, and I had told him every day I saw him that we wanted receipts for everything because the Mumbai side ripped us off so royally. So he calls his boss again and says to us that if we're not paying now we go into the office 40km away to sort it out. Well of course we exclaim our objections to this rather loudly and that no documentation has been given to us for payment. The agent calls his boss again to voice our concerns and this is met with the same response as before. He hands the phone to me and the nicest person I've ever met just says "Pay my person my money" over and over to anything I say to him. Well this leads to me shouting over the phone that we have not seen any invoice from him or any receipts and that one of the first things he told us in the office was that all of his work had been paid for already by the Mumbai office. He disagrees of course and then refers to a photo of a printout of an email with some pencilled in numbers for a shipment outbound from Dubai in a 20' container as our invoice. We also inform him that if we're going to the office we're coming with the police (none of us being Emirati helps if we involve the police). Well then he asks to give the phone back to the agent (his person), and the agent says we're going into the office.

This is how far we have come with technology (the "invoice" he was referring to).
Well now we're both shouting at the agent and the trucker and instructing them both that they are taking us into the free zone right now to get the bikes out and we're not going to the office and we're not paying until we see an invoice. That goes down about as well as expected and then the agent waves the documents in front of us and says he is taking them into the office where we can pay. Well of course my natural Australian comes out and I shove him and take the paper out of his hand.

So we're both shouting at these two outstanding gentlemen explaining that they are going nowhere and that we will get the bikes today and I think they were actually quite afraid of us for a bit. We tell them to produce some documentation for the costs after he tells us the delivery notification cost him 400dhirams, to which we retort with the actual costs as we had already seen the shipper (the people who own the boat, not the people we're dealing with right now). So he starts writing on a bit of paper that the delivery notification was 400, then it was 200 dhirims a day each for the three days out there for each bike. I reminded him (quite shoutily) that it was his fault he wasted the first two days of that, today was the only day we'd made any sort of progress.

Out of all this shouty hazy remembered mess we got him to agree to taking us to the bikes so we can see them then we will pay the 2000dhirams, and I showed him the cash to prove we had it. It took a very very long time to convince him of this and that we were actually honest people and not [well everything I write here just ends up racist].

We can't all fit in the truck so they organise to meet the truck inside somewhere. So we get a taxi, and for some unknown reason we head away from gate three which we are standing next to and take the long road all the way around to gate 7. Along this taxi ride the agent keeps saying "I will come to Australia and snatch documents out of your hands" and "I was going to tear up the documents". I am completely astounded by his lack of understanding of how angry we are with this whole process. Also a little bit puzzled that he doesn't understand that I'm heading in the other direction from Australia.

At gate 7 the taxi heads in and we end up at a small shop. He tells us we are waiting for the truck and I assume we're going to lead it to the warehouse as the driver didn't sound sure where it was. So we're sitting here with the meter running inside a taxi and then all of a sudden he starts talking to the driver and we're off. Well after many circles of an area back near the hotel I ask if we're actually headed to the warehouse and he says we are. More and more back and forth later I assume all the talk between the driver and him is about trying to locate this warehouse but we stop and there is someone standing by the road. The agent jumps out and it all smiles and hugs and shaking hands with this guy and he points in the window at us and waves. Drew opens the taxi door and asks if we're getting out and he says no, so this leads to a new question of this being the correct warehouse, and that is also negative. Well now we're all confused. The agent jumps back in and says something to the driver and we ask the agent what was that... Well...

It was his cousin. He'd just arrived in Dubai 8 days before.
I asked him why we were going to see his cousin and not going to the warehouse, to which he is dumbfounded that we are upset about having to pay for a taxi to drive around so he can have a family reunion. At this point I'm just laughing. And of course the taxis next stop was directly at the warehouse where the truck was waiting and where we could have been waiting for free.

Yep, keep pushing that guy that shoved you before, lets see if he has a breaking point.

Anyway we didn't have enough money left to pay the taxi driver so he had to pay for some of it.

Inside the warehouse we finally got a glimpse of our bikes after a month. All crated up and with some damage of course. So we're good for our word and I ask the agent if everything has been paid for which he assures me it has (but know it's not) and I hand over the 2000dhirams. To which he says it was 2280 before, and I remind him he agreed to 2000.

The comedy of errors continues because the truck they brought (probably a family friend) was two small to carry both bikes. More shouting, they've had dimensions and weight for a month and they bring the wrong truck. I tell him to go stand at one end of the warehouse, I'm going to the other.

The solution they come up with is to get two trucks, which I assume is coming out of the 2000 I gave him.

After a waiting for this second truck to turn up he comes rushing over with the warehouse manager to which I look suitably displeased about him entering my half of the warehouse. Well the reason for all the concern was that the storage fee for the bikes (which he already paid for?) was not 300 like he thought, it was 2700. Yes, we had the gold plated deluxe full service highest cost warehousing money could buy in this part of the universe. So Drew and I (and the agent, curiously) are all loudly exclaiming our displeasure at having to pay this amount for storage for 9 days (never mind the two days that the agents wasted, or five if you count the weekend and the day they actually could have started paperwork).

To give you an idea: 2700dhirams is roughly $100US/day. We'd been sharing a small and smelly room in the cheapest hotel we could find for $30/day to save some money and then we get hit with this.

Again we find out that the second truck was never actually called, it was just priced and that it would be an extra 300 dhirams. Shouting or laughing at the incompetance, I can't remember what happened here. There's more discussion and both trucks are cancelled and a new vehicle recovery truck is called in so we can get both bikes off without help. In the meantime there are lots of phone calls back and forth and lots of blame being placed on the shipper for using this warehouse, and the warehouse blaming the agent for not informing us of the costs. Whatever, I just want to pay and get out of this place. We disappear off to the bank as neither of us is carrying enough cash for this mistake.

We get back and find our truck had arrived, but now the manager of the warehouse has disappeared so we have no one to pay. After some running about someone is paid and we find out the manager knocked off about 500dhirams from the price before he left. Thanks, I think? They give us a receipt and a delivery note for the truck driver (important for later) and we're on our way.

The bikes are loaded on the truck and we all get in and head out for the last step of the day, clearing customs for the free zone. During this journey the agent it all happy and chatty and asks drew for his facebook name so he can add him later (ARE YOU KIDDING?). The truck fronts up to the inside customs office (the one we had mistakenly arrived at the day before) and we go in to find customs officers just sitting around. The agent comes over and says we should go up to the desk alone to get them to stamp the delivery because we're white. Well that's been the only good use of this skin colour for a long time now. The customs officer looks over the paperwork and tells us to meet him outside. Once outside he asks where the crates are, to which we point to the back of the truck in the distance, and he nods, goes back inside and stamps the paperwork. That was curiously easy.

Vespa being loaded.

DR650 being loaded.

We go back out with the paperwork and find the driver, he has some discussion with the agent, and then for some reason we're back inside the customs building. This time we need a gate pass. We see the gate pass officer and he goes through the documents and it is taking a while but we're almost free. Then of course he spots a problem.

The business name on the delivery note the warehouse gave us does not match the business name on the customs documents we got earlier in the day.


He tells us there will be a handling fee to process the gate pass. The driver steps in and then for some reason we're waiting around for the agent. Then of course there's a white guy shouting at the customs guy about this being the latest in the long series of idiotic hoops we've had to jump through today and it's not the customs guys fault be he's there and he's a good target because the agent isn't around (that was me doing the shouting by the way).

I go back and look at the paperwork and find the receipt that the warehouse gave us had the correct name, but not the delivery note. Drew goes over to ask what the deal is and somehow now the customs guy is willing to accept our proposal for us to just pay for the extra handling fee because of incorrect documentation so we can get out of this stupid free zone. We pay the money and then in the process ditched the agent, got in the truck with the driver and headed to the gate.

We wait in line at the gate and once it's our turn there's a shift change. Another 5 minutes of sitting around waiting. They take a quick look at the documents and they bikes are out! HOORAY!

Then once we're right on the other side of the gate the driver decides he's thirsty and pulls over to get a drink. He was sitting in the customs office with water available for about an hour waiting for us, why now?

After lots of driving around we find a skip in the middle of a big truck car park and we unload the bikes there.


There was lots of smashing of crates and then the bikes are released into the UAE! Hooray! They got here! The most horrible day ever ended! It all worked out and all problems were solved by throwing lots of cash at them! We put everything back together and then jump on the bikes and head back to the hotel!

Then we ran out of fuel.

No comments:

Post a Comment