Trans-Atlantic fight: The container wouldn't move

Sara Maad will long remember this name: Dolphin International Shipping. But she wishes she could forget it.

Maad's husband, Amol Sasane, moved to England last month to begin a new job (Maad, who is in the math department at UVA, will remain in Charlottesville for now). The couple found Dolphin, which is located in Coral Gables, Florida, on the Internet.

On August 16 they signed a contract with Dolphin to arrange for a local mover to collect the items (mattress and box springs, dining room table and four chairs, coffee table, and 10 boxes), prepare them for international shipping, and transport them for storage in Charlottesville for a week. After that, Dolphin would arrange to send the goods to the coast for overseas shipment.

Sasane paid Dolphin a $300 deposit by wire transfer on the $1,600 job, with the understanding that the balance would be paid by the London School of Economics, his employer. The goods were picked up on August 19.

Sasane emailed Dolphin vice president Kathryn Kaiser on August 28 to ask when his things would be shipped. Kaiser responded on Friday, August 29, "We will finalize all of your open issues during the beginning of the week and will provide final shipping details."

However, on September 2, Dolphin began demanding payment of the balance due, $1,300. Sasane protested, pointing out that Dolphin had agreed to bill the school. According to Anthony Salzman of the school's finance division, no bill had been received.

Although Kaiser's September 7 emailed reply began with "My apologies," she didn't appear, in the long run, to be very remorseful for failing to fax the school a bill.

While Maad claims that repeated calls to Kaiser were never returned, on September 10, Kaiser surfaced to email Sasane and again demand payment.

By then, however, Maad had found a website where five other alleged Dolphin customers had posted unflattering stories about the company. On September 11, Sasane emailed Kaiser to cancel the move. He wrote again two days later to ask for the name of the local movers, but he received no reply.

I spoke with Marty McKenzie– who's not only Dolphin's corporate counsel but also its dispatcher– on September 16. McKenzie blamed the local company, On Time Movers, and said the owner, Mongroo Beepath, had failed to properly "palletize" the goods according to Dolphin's requirements. McKenzie also claimed that Beepath had billed Dolphin for $563 instead of the $400 he had allegedly quoted over the phone.

Beepath has a very different interpretation of his agreement with Dolphin. First, he claims, McKenzie never mentioned international shipping. Second, the $400 estimate was just that– an estimate. The actual packing and moving, he claimed, entailed significantly more material and labor than he had been led to expect– due in no small part to its location on busy 14th Street at the height of student arrivals.

Beepath met with Maad on September 17, and they came to an agreement. For $563 she was able to settle On Time's bill, which includes not only the month of storage at Community Self Storage on Rio Road, but will also cover a second month while she decides what to do next. (On Time's original $563 bill was intended to cover just one week of storage.)

When last heard from, Kaiser had emailed Sasane and Salzman to complain about phone calls from someone "purporting to be Mr. Sasane's wife" and "a reporter purporting to be a 'consumer advocate.'"

Dolphin, she declared, would be deducting from the deposit "the costs involved with dispatching and coordinating Mr. Sasane's relocation, together with responding to these absolutely ridiculous phone calls."

Any bets on what that'll come to? Maad suspects $300, the amount of her deposit. I'll keep you posted.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.