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The Federal Maritime Commission has ordered Chief Administrative Law Judge Erin M. Wirth to preside over the proceeding on the complaint filed by Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference (IMCC) of the American Trucking Associations against Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association Inc. (OCEMA), et al. IMCC, in its 43-page complaint filed Aug. 17 with the FMC, alleged that OCEMA and 12 other respondents ‘‘have adopted and imposed unjust and unreasonable regulations and engaged in unjust and unreasonable practices by requiring the use of OCEMA member default chassis providers, and denying motor carriers their right to select the chassis provider for merchant haulage movements, all in violation of 46 U.S.C. 41102(c).’’ "For more than a decade, these foreign-owned companies have worked together to take advantage of hard-working American trucking companies," said Bill Sullivan, ATA's executive vice president for advocacy in a press release. "By denying truckers choice of equipment providers at port and inland locations, these unscrupulous companies have been forcing American truckers and American consumers to subsidize their costs to the tune of nearly $1.8 billion—over the last three years alone." But OCEMA's executive director and general counsel Jeffrey Lawrence called the complaint "misguided" in his interview with Transport Tropics. Mr. Lawrence explained that chassis leasing companies, not ocean carriers, manage chassis. In the United States, between 400,000 and 500,000 chassis are used in the haulage of international containers. Mr. Lawrence said that IMCC is using its complaint "for a business strategy purpose, to improve their market position.” It's not true, Mr. Lawrence said, that motor carriers have no choice. He told Supply Chain Dive that "truckers can bring their own chassis at all CCM locations. [Ocean] carriers overwhelmingly let motor carriers bring their own equipment and choose alternate vendors that CCM pools uniqueness make available." The FMC is awaiting the formal answer of OCEMA et al., after which the parties are expected to confer and agree to a discovery schedule and to consider mediation to resolve the dispute. The initial decision is expected to be issued by August 24, 2021, and the final decision of the Commission will be issued by March 10, 2022. 



The Federal Maritime Commission is closely monitoring the behavior of ocean carriers, ports, intermediaries and truckers with respect to its new guidance on how it will assess whether ocean carriers’ and marine terminal operators’ demurrage and detention practices are reasonable.


FMC Chairman Michael Khouri said they want to determine if the interpretative rule is having the intended effect to incentivize the movement of cargo and promote freight fluidity. He believes the interpretative rule is already having a positive impact on the imposition of demurrage and detention fees.


“We have some anecdotal evidence by way of CADRS (Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services) complaint resolution processes that marine terminals and vessel operators — when presented with the new rules as a defense to detention-demurrage charges — are reducing or even canceling charges in certain fact situations,” he said.


Khouri attended the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) Government Affairs Conference on Sept. 14. Representatives from the nation's leading customs brokers, freight forwarders, NVOCCs, OTIs and service attended the virtual event.


“If you have examples where the interpretive rule has made a difference, we would be happy to hear about it,” Khouri added. “If you have examples of where carriers or terminals are not in compliance with the interpretive rule, we need to hear that as well.”


Before COVID-19, forwarders and consolidators have long been concerned over the imposition of demurrage and detention fees by ocean carriers and marine terminal operators due to supply chain disruptions not of their making. The daily fees reportedly range from $150 to $350 per container.


They continue to worry about these charges now that freight volumes are increasing to the U.S. West Coast ports. They feel that imposing these demurrage and detention fees for reasons out of their control is unfair. 


Demurrage pertains to the time an import container sits in a container terminal, with carriers responsible for collecting penalties on behalf of the marine terminals. Detention relates to shippers holding containers for too long outside the marine terminals.


The FMC finalized new guidance in April. The container availability rulemaking process was initiated by the FMC last fall following approval of recommendations made by Commissioner Rebecca Dye.


(Photo: U.S. Federal Maritime Commission)

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