During a recent meeting with chemical distributors, Commissioner Carl W. Bentzel heard concerns about systemic reductions for hazardous materials transportation via ocean. Distributors source chemical products from manufacturers overseas and sell them to diverse customers in the United States across all industries that use these chemicals to produce a wide range of goods critical to the economy and public health. Many of these chemical products are no longer domestically manufactured but are essential components of programs and products used by U.S. consumers daily. “I am troubled by reports that ocean carriers might be refusing to serve shippers importing hazardous materials. The inability to import these commodities could in turn harm U.S. manufacturers, and potentially jeopardize U.S. programs related to water purification and other strategic U.S. services and commodities that rely on the movement of international cargoes of hazardous materials. "Current surges of import cargoes have continued to stretch the abilities of the ocean liner industry. While I understand the fundamental challenges of addressing supply and demand in the congested intermodal transportation environment, shrinking shipping capacity could limit certain cargo movements. This means that market decisions by ocean carriers will determine who, and to what extent, shippers will receive service. "Section 41104(a)(10) of the Shipping Act prohibits carriers from unreasonable refusals to deal, and Section 41102(c) generally requires ocean carriers, ’to establish, observe and enforce just and reasonable regulations and practices relating to or connected with receiving, handling, storing, or delivering property‘. These provisions, and others related to federal safety requirements governing the safe transportation of hazardous materials, help ensure that hazardous material cargoes are not discriminated against because of the nature of the material being shipped. "Given the potential implications of systemic refusals by shipping lines, I am urging that we broaden the scope of the Vessel-Operating Common Carrier Audit Program to include review of whether there have been any systemic decisions by ocean carriers to discriminate against hazardous materials transportation. Such a review could be conducted within the existing audit program and will make FMC oversight more focused and thorough during this volatile time.”
California Roundtable Discussions
During the week of August 30, Federal Maritime Commission Commissioner Carl W. Bentzel convened a series of roundtable discussions in Northern and Southern California with Congressman Alan Lowenthal, industry leaders, shippers and the State of California. The discussions focused on the myriad of supply chain challenges such as equipment availability, port congestion and U.S. exporter access to global markets. These issues have plagued the largest freight gateway in the United States throughout the pandemic, while impacting the economic health of the entire country. The first roundtable discussion was convened in Oakland on August 30th, followed by a joint roundtable with the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles held in Long Beach on September 1st. “These roundtables are an essential step in evaluating the value of a comprehensive approach to rectifying the inefficiencies in our supply chain. Oakland, and the port complex of Long Beach and Los Angeles, are vastly different ports, but they have been equally impacted by disruptions caused by the pandemic cargo volume surges,” said Commissioner Bentzel.