American manufacturer files landmark suit with the FMC over soaring liner charges

An American furniture shipper has filed a $600,000 lawsuit with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) against a couple of global containerlines, which it claims have repeatedly contravened terms of the US Shipping Act. The case will be watched carefully by other shippers, hit hard by huge price escalations for freight and dire schedule reliability during the pandemic.

Pennsylvania-based MCS Industries, whose clients include Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s, filed the suit last week, mentioning both Cosco and Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC).

MCS said carriers had “unjustly and unreasonably” exploited customers, and had colluded to manipulate the market.

“Global ocean carriers began taking parallel and strikingly similar actions to prop up ocean carriage pricing and improve their profitability at the expense of shippers and the public,” MCS maintained, suggesting this collusion was made possible by the fact that there are now just three alliances that dominate more than 90% of the main east-west tradelanes.

Carriers had failed to stick to their contract commitments with MCS, the suit claims, forcing the American company to ship more via the soaringly expensive spot market.

“These collusive ocean alliances give Respondents venue and opportunity to co-ordinate discriminatory practices such as those alleged herein to violate contracts with shippers like MCS in favour of exploiting profit opportunities on the spot market,” the suit alleges.

MCS is the US market leader for picture frames, poster frames, mirrors, wall décor, and architectural and decorative moldings for home construction and home improvement markets.

American politicians have moved in recent weeks to give the FMC greater powers to investigate liner actions.

Container shipping companies are on track to post their highest ever profits this year, likely triple the previous all-time highs.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Very strange for years the container liners did not make any profit due to low freight rates and high bunker prices. For example 1 Teu Europe to Far East max USD 350 no shipper complained and made themselves high profits.
    Now facing high shipping rates they start moaning. Mayby they forgot the investments been made for new vessels ???

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