American Trucking Association complaint to FMC alleges that ‘unlawful’ actions by lines have ‘overcharged truckers and their customers for intermodal container chassis at ports and inland terminals’. US intermodal road freight representatives have filed a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) alleging that foreign-owned container lines have engaged in “unjust and unreasonable conduct” that breach US laws and cost them hundreds of millions of dollars each year in inflated charges for intermodal container chassis.
The American Trucking Associations’ Intermodal Motor Carrier Conference (IMCC) filed the suit last week with the FMC, alleging that foreign-owned ocean shipping lines “engaged in unjust and unreasonable conduct in violation of the Shipping Act”, adding that the “unlawful” actions by lines “have overcharged truckers and their customers for intermodal container chassis at ports and inland terminals throughout the United States”.
Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president for advocacy, commented: “For more than a decade, these foreign-owned companies have worked together to take advantage of hard-working American trucking companies. By denying truckers choice of equipment providers at port and inland locations, these unscrupulous companies have been forcing American truckers and American consumers to subsidize their costs to the tune of nearly $1.8 billion – over the last three years alone.
“This must end, and after several attempts to come to a mutually beneficial resolution, we are now asking the FMC to resolve it,” Sullivan said.
IMCC filed its complaint with the FMC on 17 August, alleging that the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA) and 11 ocean carriers “have denied trucking companies choice when leasing this essential equipment, forcing unjust and unreasonable prices upon trucking companies”. Hoping to avoid legal action, IMCC sent a Cease and Desist letter to OCEMA and to the ocean carriers in May, but said OCEMA “failed to address the violations that were raised”.
Randy Guillot, ATA chairman and president of Triple G Express and Southeastern Motor Freight, commented: “By denying motor carriers their choice of chassis provider to haul goods in and out of ports, OCEMA’s overseas members have held US motor carriers hostage and forced them to subsidise the shipping lines. So far OCEMA and its members have rejected all of our attempts to reach a fair and equitable arrangement, but we believe they’ll have less success ignoring the FMC.”
In its complaint , the IMCC outlined “a number of ongoing violations of the Shipping Act”, with the IMCC seeking injunctive relief against OCEMA and the shipping lines.
No one at OCEMA was available to comment at the time of writing.
Detention and demurrage challenge
Following longstanding complaints from cargo owners and their representatives, earlier this year, the FMC issued new guidance on how it will assess the reasonableness of detention and demurrage regulations and practices of ocean carriers and marine terminal operators.
Under the new rule, the Federal Maritime Commission said it would consider the extent to which detention and demurrage charges and policies “serve their primary purpose of incentivising the movement of cargo and promoting freight fluidity”.
It also provides guidance on how the FMC may apply that principle in the context of “cargo availability and empty container return”.
The commission said it may also consider other factors related to the “content and clarity” of carrier and MTO policies addressing detention and demurrage as well as the clarity of their “terminology”.
The final rule adds two provisions that were not included in the proposed rule published in September 2019: That the guidance in the rule is applicable in the context of government inspections; That the rule does not preclude the FMC from considering additional factors, arguments, and evidence outside those specifically listed.
The commission said this “final interpretive rule” was the result of a process initiated following the lobbying of a coalition of shipper groups in December 2016.
Shippers have long complained about what they see as the unfair imposition of demurrage fees when, for reasons beyond their control, they cannot collect or return container equipment during the free period. The rule will become effective upon its publication in the Federal Register.