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US FMC probes eight container lines over congestion surcharges

Photo: HMM HMM Algeciras (002).png
HMM one of the container lines subject to the FMC inquiry
The US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has launched an “Expedited Inquiry” into the practices of eight container shipping lines related to “congestion or related surcharges”.

While the wheels spin slowly in Washington, DC, it is not so in this case underscoring the mounting pressure from US shippers over record high container freight rates, surcharges, and delayed shipments.

The eight carriers, all identified as having recently announced or actually implemented congestion or congestion-related charges, are: CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, Matson, MSC, OOCL, SM Line; and ZIM

The FMC explains that: “In reviewing ocean carrier responses, the Commission will determine if surcharges were implemented following proper notice [30 days is required]; if the purpose of the surcharge was clearly defined; if it is clear what event or condition triggers the surcharge; and is it clear what event or condition has been identified that would terminate the surcharge.”

The deadline for responses, to the FMC’s Bureau of Enforcement (BoE) is 13 August. 

According to the FMC, the carriers have been asked “to provide details that confirm any surcharges were instituted properly and in accordance with legal and regulatory obligations.”  

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

He added that: “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.”

 In concluding, he said: “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.”

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