10:17pm 19th August 2021
The Federal Maritime Commission has given eight ocean carriers nine days to confirm that recently implemented charges have been instituted according to current laws and regulations.
“We hear increasing reports of ocean carriers assessing new additional fees, such as ‘congestion surcharges,’ with little notice or explanation,” said FMC chairman Dan Maffei. “I want to know the carriers’ justifications for additional fees.”
The FMC’s Bureau of Enforcement has opened an inquiry “aimed at stopping any instance where these add-on fees may not fully comply with the law or regulation.”
Mr Maffei said the congestion is due mostly to the “tremendous volume of traffic” coming from ocean carriers and through ports to satisfy the record demand for imports.
“Far from being a sudden occurrence or isolated to a port or geographical area, congestion of the freight transportation system is everywhere and has been going on for many months,” he said. “It seems to me that these factors would already have been included into the record high rates charged by the carriers.”
The FMC has launched an “expedited inquiry” into the timing and legal sufficiency of ocean carrier practices with respect to certain surcharges.
Eight ocean carriers are being asked to provide the Bureau of Enforcement with details about congestion or related surcharges they have implemented or announced.
They are CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, Matson, MSC, OOCL, SM Line, and Zim.
Each ocean carrier was identified as having recently implemented or announced congestion or related surcharges.
“This action was taken in response to communications received by the commission from multiple parties reporting that ocean carriers are improperly implementing surcharges,” the FMC said.
The carriers have until August 13 to provide details that confirm any surcharges were instituted properly and in accordance with legal and regulatory obligations.
Ocean carriers are subject to specific requirements related to tariff changes or rate increases, including providing a 30-day notice to shippers and ensuring that published tariffs are clear and definite.
The FMC said it would determine whether surcharges were implemented following proper notice and if the purpose of the surcharge was clearly defined.
The agency will also want to know if it is clear what event or condition triggered the surcharge and whether it is clear what event or condition has been identified that would terminate the surcharge.
The FMC can initiate enforcement actions for improperly established tariffs.
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