Japanese shipping companies told a U.S. government agency that they would consider paying fines accrued during September if the agency entirely removes port sanctions it imposed Sept. 14, industry sources said Oct. 20.The fines were due Oct. 15, but the shipping companies refused to pay, sparking the most serious trade rift between the two economic superpowers in 10 years. Meanwhile, Masahiko Kurono, a Transport Ministry vice minister, said the ministry will not intervene in the matter. “It is possible for the shipping lines to make a different decision (from the ministry),” Kurono said. “It is not proper that the ministry intervenes in a decision made by the shipping lines.”Kurono’s comment comes despite a Kyodo News report Oct. 17 that quoted an unidentified shipping industry source as saying the shipping companies had been prepared to make the payments by the deadline, but “the Transport Ministry instructed them to withhold the payments because the talks are under way.”The shippers still say the decision is not theirs to make. “We have not made a decision to pay,” a spokesman for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines said Oct. 20. “There is a question of whether we can make a decision for ourselves. It is a matter to decide after discussing it with the ministry.”The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission imposed $100,000 fines for each port call to the U.S by container vessels operated by Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, Ltd., Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and Nippon Yusen Kaisha Ltd. By the end of the month, the fines had totaled $4 million. The Japanese government maintains that the sanctions violate a bilateral treaty.

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