FMC wants ocean carriers to pay for container storage

Federal regulators are pressuring carriers at the Port of New York and New Jersey to compensate shippers and carriers for container storage.

Port Newark Container Terminal

The head of the Federal Maritime Commission is warning ocean carriers serving the Port of New York and New Jersey to stop forcing shippers and drayage truckers to store their containers — and pay them for it when they do.

FMC Chairman Dan Maffei is ratcheting pressure on carriers following a meeting with truckers and marine terminal operators at the port on Wednesday.

“The [FMC] has already been investigating reports of carriers charging per diem container charges even when the shipper or trucker cannot possibly return the container due to terminal congestion,” Maffei said in a statement released Thursday. “I will ask that this investigation be broadened and intensified to cover instances where shippers and truckers are being forced to store containers or move them without proper compensation.”

The National Industrial Transportation League and Bi-State Motor Carriers Association last week urged the FMC to suspend demurrage and detention at the port as congestion worsens amid spiking import volume. Maffei and the agency’s acting director of the bureau of enforcement, investigations and compliance, Lucille Marvin, followed up with a visit to the port to see conditions firsthand.

“When ocean carriers continue to bring thousands of containers per month to a port and only pick up a fraction of that number, it creates an untenable situation for terminals, importers and exporters, trucking companies and the port itself,” Maffei said.

Carriers most behind in picking up their empty containers will be asked for a plan to get caught up.

“Whatever their answers may be, I will do everything in my power to ensure that carriers do not receive involuntarily subsidized storage for empty containers that belong to them,” Maffei asserted. “If it can be shown that a shipper or a trucker is not allowed to return a container then, not only should they not be charged per diem, but the carrier should compensate that trucker for the space it takes up.”

Maffei defended the stricter stance against ocean carriers as being in line with its demurrage and detention rules because it promotes the movement of cargo “since chassis and space would be freed up by carriers taking full responsibility for the empty containers resulting from the increased volumes of import cargo they bring in.”

As record-breaking container ship queues threaten to tie up ports around the country ahead the of the fall peak shipping season, the Port of New and New Jersey announced Tuesday it will be charging ocean carriers a $100 per-container fee on long-dwelling import or export containers, with the goal of freeing up space and improving the balance between imports and exports. The new tariff is effective as of September pending a mandatory 30-day federal notice.

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