FMC to hear US handling charge challenge

cargo handling at port The Coalition for Fair Port Practises' petition says that port charges are unreasonable. Credit: Hervé Cozanet

The US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) will hold hearings on 16-17 January regarding a petition challenging port charges.

The petition by the Coalition for Fair Port Practises requests that the FMC legally clarify what constitutes “just and reasonable rules and practises” for assessment of demurrage, detention and per diem charges by common ocean carriers and marine terminal operators when ports are congested or otherwise inaccessible.

The coalition, representing importers, exporters, drayage providers, freight forwarders, customs brokers and third-party logistics, is proposing a rule for adoption and requests specific guidance as to the reasonableness of charges when port conditions “prevent the timely pick up of cargo or the return of carrier equipment because of broad circumstances that are beyond the control of shippers, receivers or drayage providers.”

History of events

The petition lists events over the preceding five years that led to port congestion including Hurricane Sandy (2012), harsh winter (2013-2014), west coast labour agreement (2014-2015), cargo diversions from west coast to east coast (2015), winter storms (2014-2015), port hiring practices protests—New York/New Jersey (June 2016), and the Hanjin bankruptcy (Fall 2016).

The FMC received 115 responses to its request for comment including from Members of Congress, trade and shipper associations representing various interests, individual importers, exporters, customs brokers, freight forwarders, logistics companies, trucking and drayage companies, VOCCs, port authorities, and MTOs.

The FMC stated: “The many responses to the Petition illustrate the complexity of issues surrounding ocean container shipping and marine terminal operations.”

Request for appearance and comments for the hearing are due by 8 December.

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