FMC considering 60-day congestion emergency order

Federal regulators are considering a congestion emergency order to require carriers to share cargo data with shippers, railroads and trucks.

Container stacks at Port of Los Angeles.

The Federal Maritime Commission will ask the public to comment on whether supply chain congestion is severe enough to order carriers and container terminals to share their cargo availability data directly with shippers, railroads and drayage truckers.

Information received in response “will help inform the commission’s decision on whether an emergency situation exists and whether to issue an emergency order to address any such situation,” the FMC stated in a document released Thursday.

Issuance of a congestion emergency order, which would last up to 60 days with the option to extend it, was authorized by the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA), signed into law in June, pending a review of comments from the container trades.

The FMC noted in its information request that the container shipping sector has tried various strategies to reduce chronic bottlenecks over the past two years, including diverting vessel services from the most congested ports.

“This shift, however, has often resulted in increased congestion at previously non- or less-congested U.S. port areas or regions,” the FMC stated in its comment request. “Total U.S. port congestion, measured by the number of containers on ships waiting to berth, average ship waiting time at key U.S. ports and container dwell time have all decreased in recent months. Relevant metrics, however, remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.”

But the order could turn out to be necessary based on evidence of increasing congestion ahead of the fall peak shipping season.

Last week FMC Chairman Dan Maffei warned marine terminals and ocean carriers at the Port of New York and New Jersey that they may be responsible for paying shippers and drayage truckers for storing their containers due to increasing congestion.

The public will have 30 days following its publishing in the federal register to respond to the proposal. The FMC is seeking detailed comments, with supporting data, on the following questions:

  • Has congestion created an emergency situation of a magnitude to have a substantial, adverse effect on the competitiveness and reliability of the international ocean transportation supply system?
  • Would an FMC emergency order alleviate the emergency situation?
  • What would be the appropriate scope of an emergency order?

According to the OSRA, information sharing required under an FMC-issued emergency order would be aimed at improving the efficient transportation, loading and unloading of cargo to or from any inland destination or point of origin, any vessel or any point on a wharf or terminal.

The law also states that such an order “must be tailored in terms of duration and geographic scope; consider the likely burdens on common carriers and marine terminal operators; and consider the likely benefits on congestion relating to the purposes of the Shipping Act.”

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