The Federal Maritime Commission is requesting details from 11 ocean carriers and marine terminal operators proving that their detention and demurrage surcharges comply with the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, according to a March 23 press release.
The agency is asking the carriers to attest and show policies and practices through its Vessel-Operating Common Carrier audit program, FMC Senior Advisor for Legislative & Public Affairs John DeCrosta told Supply Chain Dive in an email.
COSCO, CMA CGM, Evergreen, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, Maersk, MSC, ONE, OOCL, Yang Ming and ZIM are the carriers in question.
According to the OSRA legislation, implementing detention and demurrage charges must be done in a way that supports the flow of cargo in a reasonable manner.
Prior to the pandemic, detention and demurrage were heavily debated. After ports began to suffer from congestion due to pandemic-related issues like labor and elevated demand, carriers collected a record number of demurrage fees that led shippers to raise concerns. The FMC is currently investigating over 100 of charge complaints where some shippers allege that ocean carriers placed unjustly fees.
Shippers say the legislation is not always followed. For instance, TCW Inc. filed a complaint against Evergreen Shipping Agency & Evergreen Line when a port was closed and the shipper was unable to return equipment. The commission ruled that “charging of per-diem when a port was closed and equipment could not be returned was unjust and unreasonable.”
The FMC is also seeking surcharge details from marine terminal operators through a separate investigation not conducted by the VOCC audit program.
This is not the first time the agency has taken a close look at how ocean carriers are applying surcharges. In 2021, the FMC called out eight carriers, asking for details about surcharges to be sent to the Commission's Bureau of Enforcement. The following year the agency announced a proposal where ocean carriers would need to provide thorough documentation on detention and demurrage fees and how to dispute charges.
"Noncompliant policies and practices identified through the Audit will be addressed with the carriers so that they have the opportunity to comply," DeCrosta said. "Noncompliant policies and practices that are identified as part of an FMC enforcement investigation will be handled through the FMC’s enforcement process.”