FMC probes eight lines over surcharges

The US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has asked eight of the major global ocean carriers – CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, Matson, MSC, OOCL, SM Line and Zim – to provide details about their congestion and related surcharges.

The Commission’s Bureau of Enforcement will assess whether the surcharges were instituted properly and in accordance with legal and regulatory obligations. The carriers have only until August 13 to respond. Each of the eight carriers has 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.

Ocean carriers are subject to specific requirements related to tariff changes or rate increases, including providing 30 days’ notice to shippers and ensuring that published tariffs are clear and definite. The commission can initiate enforcement actions for improperly established tariffs.

In reviewing responses from the carriers, the commission will determine if their surcharges were implemented following proper notice; if the purpose of the surcharge was clearly defined; if it is clear what event or condition triggered the surcharge; and if it is clear what event or condition would terminate the surcharge.

“The Covid-related spike in demand for imports has pushed cargo rates to record highs,” said FMC chairman Daniel Maffei. “Now, we hear increasing reports of ocean carriers assessing new additional fees, such as congestion surcharges, with little notice or explanation.

“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. It seems to me that these factors would already have been included into the record high rates charged by the carriers. As chairman, I want to know the carriers’ justifications for additional fees and I strongly support close scrutiny by the FMC’s Bureau of Enforcement aimed at stopping any instance where these add-on fees may not fully comply with the law or regulation,” concluded Maffei.

Kim Biggar

Kim Biggar started writing in the supply chain sector in 2000, when she joined the Canadian Association of Supply Chain & Logistics Management. In 2004/2005, she was project manager for the Government of Canada-funded Canadian Logistics Skills Committee, which led to her 13-year role as communications manager of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council. A longtime freelance writer, Kim has contributed to publications including The Forwarder, 3PL Americas, The Shipper Advocate and Supply Chain Canada.
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