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UniGroup / Terrible experience

1 United States

I write regarding the terrible experience that my family and I have had with UniGroup Worldwide, an international shipping company. UniGroup was hired by Africare, a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC to transport our property from Abuja, Nigeria, to Fairfax, Virginia, USA. We relocated to Nigeria in 2001, where my wife, Dr. Chinwe Effiong, had been posted by Africare to serve as Country Representative. On conclusion of Chinwe’s assignment in 2005, UniGroup was hired to transport our property to the USA following Chinwe’s re-assignment to Africare Headquarters in Washington DC.

UniGroup subsequently arranged through one of their local affiliates in Nigeria, IAL, to ship our belongings out of Abuja in November 2005. In effect, our things were packed and boxed, and in a few days hauled off in a 40-foot container. Among our property was a 1998 Nissan Maxima, which IAL, UniGroup’s affiliate, also agreed to ship and thus placed in the container. As stated, all this took place in November 2005.

As at now, end of May 2006, which is six months later, we are yet to receive any of our property. Subsequently, we have suffered considerably, especially as we have three children (ages 7, 5, and 2) to take care of. Because my car was not delivered as early as we thought it would be delivered, we had to rely on rented cars for a number of weeks, which cost us approximately $3020.28. Things got so desperate that I travelled to Dallas, TX and picked up a 2000 Dodge Caravan that my cousin, Celestine Osakwe, decided to help my family with. It took about 24 hours for me to drive the van from Dallas to Fairfax.

For four months my wife and I, along with our two-year old daughter, shared an inflatable mattress, which eventually lost all its air, perhaps as a result of a puncture or other cause. We were thus forced to rent beds and other furniture for our room and my mother-in-law’s room at the rate of $150 plus delivery charges per month. We have the receipts for all these expenses.

As a professor who has already begun to interview with the likes of the University of Maryland, University College, I am yet to have my books delivered, which I would need to perform any teaching job. In addition, basic formalities like having a meal have been made difficult, particularly when we have guests, as we still have to rely on plastic cups and cutlery. Naturally, it is difficult purchasing these amenities since we know that we have them in abundance among our property being held by UniGroup.

It is ludicrous, insensitive, and the height of unprofessional conduct for UniGroup not to have delivered our property up until now. Unapologetic about their failure to deliver our goods in six months, a UniGroup agent, Earl Kroger of Hampden, informed my wife that the company did not promise to deliver the goods on any particular date. His notion, therefore, is that delivery is open-ended and can take place one, two, or even ten years from now, since no date was specified. It also implies that we should just sit and wait indefinitely and somehow survive without our much-needed property.

UniGroup is also refusing to take responsibility for our car, which, they claim, does not meet American specifications and would therefore not be allowed to be brought into the USA. There are many things that I know and do not know about. One of the things that I have little knowledge about is the laws ascribed to the international shipment of goods. I do know, however, that I have the right to ship things as long as I am operating within the confines of specific laws. If I intended to ship arms or a bomb, UniGroup would certainly have refused to ship the weapons since I do not have a weapons trading licence. In other words, we believe, it is the responsibility of UniGroup to tell its customers what it can and cannot ship, and what would be required to ship certain items. (I assume this is why IAL inspected all our belongings and packed them by themselves.) UniGroup (through their local affiliate) failed to do this regarding our vehicle, and are only telling us about American specifications (which we knew nothing about) now that the vehicle has arrived at US shores.

Another argument that UniGroup is using against us is that my wife authorized IAL to ship our belongings, and that they didn’t give the directive. This of course is nothing short of fraudulent. What authority does my wife have to give orders to UniGroup or any of its affiliates? Can she also hire and fire their staff? IAL, as an affiliate of UniGroup in Nigeria, who was given the responsibility to handle our shipment by UniGroup, served as a representative of UniGroup. Whatever decisions they made were on behalf of UniGroup. We were preparing to ship our property out of Nigeria and had no choice but to work with the affiliate and representative that UniGroup sent to us. If this affiliate failed to carry out its job effectively, then that is a problem between UniGroup and this affiliate. We should not in any way be held responsible or used as scapegoats.

Based on the above, and to forestall a major lawsuit in which we intend to claim, among others, charges for suffering caused my family in the past six months, we are demanding that UniGroup should:

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