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FMC looks to data for reduced supply chain disruption

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The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is pushing ahead with a data initiative that across shipping and the supply chain to standardise information flows and improve efficiency.

The FMC has gained an expanded role in overseeing cargo flows into, and out of, US ports as a result of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA 2022). But its work goes well beyond purely regulatory initiatives. Since the “Supply Chain Crisis” of 2021 and 2022, there have been multiple pushes in the States to improve connectivity among all the players in movements of liner cargoes.

One such effort has come from Carl W. Bentzel, an FMC Commissioner. In late 2021, Commissioner Bentzel was directed to look closely at the intersection of data with the movement of cargo. In April, 2023, he issued a report on his work- which had been dubbed “Maritime Transportation Data Initiative”, or MTDI, which had been based on extensive in-person and online participants in the supply chains.

According to Commissioner Bentzel’s report, “The final recommendations generated through the MTDI process call for the establishment of the Maritime Data Transportation Data System (MDTS). In broad terms the MDTS would: establish a system of information on planned ocean carrier voyages, information on vessels transits with real-time position of vessels and real-time estimates of arrival, harmonization of standards for public information related to terminal access for cargo retrieval and standardize the method of charactering cargo status for cargo retrieval from Marine Terminal Operators.”

In a mid-August informational web presentation titled “Logistics Rewired”, Commissioner Bentzel was interviewed regarding the MTDI by two executives from Flexport- a connectivity platform serving logistics participants worldwide, Michael Baekboel, Head of Compliance as a Service (CaaS), and Angus Fan, Group Product Manager. Talking about 2021- 2022, Bentzel said, “essentially it was a tsunami of events that created challenges”, adding that: “The maritime industry has these eruptions periodically…there’s always challenges.”

Pointing to a top-of-mind issue as the debate season for the 2024 Presidential elections is starting, he said: “The inflationary cost that we suffer as a nation right now were in a large part attributable to the congestion that occurred in the shipping industry.” He suggested that the problems were less about the prices with dollar per teu prices sky-rocketing and more about “the delays in delivery of cargo” - supply chain disruptions.

Bentzel praised all participants in the information gathering process leading up to the April 2023 report, and said that industry players had a lot of concerns about:  “the reliability, sourcing, and the timeliness of  [supply chain] information.”

Responding to a question about overlapping jurisdictions (between the FMC and the Surface Transportation Board, or STB, which oversees the rail mode), he said: “It is a hot issue,” noting that multi-modal shipments, with end-to-end bills of lading, are being discussed. “I believe that the FMC has jurisdiction to assess practices all the way through the supply chain, if it’s under a contract with a through bill of lading,” he said.

On the data side, he opined that: “I believe that if we don’t comprehensively look at intermodal shipping, we will miss the boat”. Continuing, he said: “On data, we propose that if it’s under a contract of carriage for intermodal shipping, that the railroad services should be encompassed as a sub-contractor.”

Further discussions of MTDI are continuing. Commissioner Bentzel lamented inefficient practices of emails, and wasted resourcing of logistics personnel as they try to follow up on shipment locations and timings, and urged webinar participants to “participate and give us your views…we need input” as these ongoing discussions continue. He said that the FMC will be preparing questions, for public comment, regarding the April report- to be released shortly. “We’ll go one step at a time…but I would hope that we would get all of these questions out, and answered by the public, by the Fall.”

Talking about the report recommendations, Commissioner Bentzel said that possibly, public hearings might be held; “I want the public to tell us if it’s right or wrong.”

Resources for readers:

April,2023 report of Maritime Transportation Data Initiative:

Flexport webinar: