African Immigrants’ Shipping Containers Irritate Neighbors

A van is loaded into a shipping container parked at 173rd Street and Bathgate Avenue, headed for West Africa. (Photo by Patrick Wall/DNAinfo)

In the Bronx’s Morrisania and neighboring areas, the sight of giant shipping containers (something similar to these freezer shipping containers) parked on the street has triggered the ire of some residents, who call the 40-foot trailers a “dangerous eyesore” and have asked the police to have them towed away, reported DNAinfo‘s Patrick Wall. Local West African immigrants use the containers as a cheap way to send goods — clothes, household items electronics, and even cars — to their families back home.

A dozen trailers have been towed in the last month, the local police captain told DNAinfo.

After resident Bert Irons submitted photos (including this one) and a letter to police regarding a shipping container illegally parked outside Trinity Methodist Church, police have it towed away. (Photo by Bert Irons, via DNAinfo)

“Some people get very upset,” Bert Irons, chairman of the local Evangelical Church of God, explained. “It degrades the neighborhood… Neighbors complain about them taking up two, three, four parking spaces. And the street cleaners can’t get through.”

But local business owners who rely on the containers explained that people who store them on the street are the outliers in an otherwise lawful and thriving local trade: shipping goods, from diapers and T-shirts to furniture and even small vans, from The Bronx to West Africa.

The Bronx is home to some 32,600 immigrants from West African countries, according to the most recent American Community Survey, Wall reports, but some community leaders say the actual number may be three times that.

Most are concentrated in the central Bronx, in neighborhoods such as Morrisania, Highbridge and Tremont, and many send and receive goods from Africa on a regular basis, according to Jane Kani Edward, a clinical assistant professor at Fordham University, who was born in Sudan.

Some people use the containers to send necessities or gifts to loved ones or charities, while others ship coveted American merchandise to be sold in African markets, Edward explained. Others who use the containers are business owners importing African goods, such as specialty foods or movies, that they can sell to homesick immigrants.

Filling the containers with goods is a step in an intricate process. First, Bronx-based export companies rent out the containers, which they get from New York and New Jersey seaports for $3,000 to $4,000. The large crates are then moved to the Bronx, where customers pay a fee to reserve a part of the container for goods to ship back home.

The shipping costs vary by weight, exporters said, from approximately $80 for a plastic drum filled with goods to $1,200 to $1,500 for a full car.

Containers in the lot of exporting company Unique World Shipping on 163rd Street wait to be filled with goods. (Photo by Patrick Wall/DNAinfo)

While it is considerably cheaper than sending goods on airplanes, it can take a month or longer for the containers to be shipped to their final destinations.

The containers sometimes sit on the street until they’re full enough to ship, exporters said.

Fatima Baba, who runs Dakar Transportation on E. 166th Street, said her company rents the containers and then delivers them wherever the customers ask.

Some people use parking lots, while others pay to store the containers in empty lots between buildings. Others ask for the trailers to be parked right outside their buildings.

Since residents started complaining, Baba noted, fewer people have parked the containers out on the open street.

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