Somewhat hazy news on DW

Officials in Berlin on Friday accused the US of intercepting a shipment of 200,000 protective face masks en-route from a Chinese manufacturer to Germany.

Berlin Interior Minister Andreas Geisel on Friday said that the masks had been ordered for the city's police department and that seizure was linked to an export ban on masks by the US government, as the manufacturer is based in the US.

The US committed "an act of modern piracy," Geisel said.

I see the BBC now says:

The US company that makes the masks, 3M, has been prohibited from exporting its medical products to other countries under a Korean-War-era law invoked by President Donald Trump.

He said US authorities had taken custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks and 600,000 gloves. He did not say where they were taken into US hands. [...]

In a separate development, 3M said the Trump administration had asked it to stop exporting US-made N95 respirator masks to Canada and Latin America.


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According to an article in Financial Times, the shipment was seized in Bangkok, though 3M currently denies that any such order existed:

Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s interior minister, confirmed that the consignment had been “confiscated” in Bangkok and never reached Berlin.

“We consider that an act of modern piracy,” he said. “You don’t treat your transatlantic partners like that.”

3M disputed the account, saying it has “no record of any order of respirators from China for the Berlin police”. German authorities were not available on Friday evening to explain the discrepancy. ...

According to Tagesspiegel the Berlin police had ordered the masks from 3M. They were produced in a 3M factory in China and were due to be reloaded at Bangkok airport and flown to Germany. Instead the delivery went straight to the US.

US swoop sees 3M masks allegedly diverted from Berlin - Financial Times

Apparently, this isn't the only case. That same article mentions complains from France, while even US states have had their medical supplies seized by the Feds:

Warren also pointed to at least two instances in which Massachusetts lost orders for ventilators and hundreds of respirators after the federal government stepped in — a situation Marylou Sudders, the state’s health and human service secretary, described as: "They take what we order.”

Sudders said the Trump administration also impounded a third order of 3 million masks the state had negotiated to buy earlier in March. ...

Warren asked Gaynor to explain why the federal government seized the two orders from Massachusetts, and to which state the supplies ultimately went, among a series of other questions in the letter.

Warren to feds: Why did you take Massachusetts’ medical supplies? - Boston Globe

Another source on the same story:

Gov. Charlie Baker said a complicated international plan to purchase over 1 million N95 masks for Massachusetts health care workers and first responders was hatched after a previous order was confiscated in the Port of New York.

"Around the time that we had our 3 million masks that we had ordered through BJs confiscated in the port of New York, at that point it became pretty clear to us that using what I would describe as sort of a 'traditional approach to this' wasn't going to work," Baker said Thursday.

The governor did not specify the agency responsible for confiscating the masks. ...

The coalition arranged a purchase of the masks in China, which were flown back to Massachusetts Thursday aboard a New England Patriots private plane.

The supplies were then transported by the National Guard to a stockpile in Marlborough.

3 million masks ordered by Massachusetts were confiscated in Port of New York, leading to creative alternative

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    The Financial Times is behind a paywall, so I cannot read what it says about the complaints in France. But what was in French news (but the situation is not totally clear) is that the US government bought to a Chinese company masks that were about to be sent to France. Not exactly the same situation.
    – Taladris
    Apr 4, 2020 at 3:31
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    Also 3M and Canada. Not sure if related. politico.com/news/2020/04/03/…
    – Jontia
    Apr 4, 2020 at 8:06
  • I think it would come down to the details of the contract. If the shipment was something like EXW, it looks like theft, if it was something like DAP, the US government interfered with the ability of an US company to fulfill a contract with consequences as per the details and the applicable contract law.
    – o.m.
    Apr 4, 2020 at 10:09
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    @o.m.: The US can do anything it wants at the moment. It has requisitioned medical supplies of all sorts, i.e. anything transiting through the US or a US company is liable to get taken away by the Federal government (as Cuba learned the hard way in recent days). Apr 4, 2020 at 16:09
  • @DenisdeBernardy, in this case the diversion happened outside the US. A manufacturer who has handed over the merchandise to a third party shipper cannot take it back. A manufacturer who hasn't yet handed over the merchandize can decide to break the contract.
    – o.m.
    Apr 5, 2020 at 4:49

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