- Eight ocean carriers are being asked to provide information on their use of congestion surcharges to the Federal Maritime Commission's Bureau of Enforcement as the agency seeks to ensure the companies are levying the fees in a legal manner, according to a Wednesday announcement from the agency.
- There are regulations outlining the fashion in which carriers are able to implement these surcharges that require it to be done with proper notice with clear reasoning for why it is being billed, the agency said. The carriers being asked for information include CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, Matson, MSC, OOCL, SM Line and ZIM.
- Some cargo owners had "shared information with the commission regarding concerns about these charges and their validity," FMC spokesman John DeCrosta said.
While no action has yet been taken against any ocean carriers, this is the latest in a series of announcements that have the agency taking a close look at how carriers are operating and making money.
- Earlier this week, MCS Industries filed a formal complaint against two ocean carriers alleging that they had used unfair business practices to deny capacity that had been agreed to in contracts, forcing the cargo owner onto the spot market. MCS additionally said the spot market was artificially inflated due to actions by the carriers.
- At the end of last month, the FMC announced a program to audit the top nine carriers' detention and demurrage practices.
- And earlier in July, the FMC announced it would begin working with the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to look into antitrust issues in the ocean shipping industry.
The Wednesday announcement is separate from the previous ones, and it looks specifically at congestion surcharges. It is also separate from the Fact Finding 29 investigation into the pandemic's effects on ocean shipping industry that is led by Commissioner Rebecca Dye, who released her interim recommendations last week, DeCrosta said.
Over nearly two years, the ocean market has been dealing with levels of congestion that haven't been seen before and remain stubbornly persistent. And with that congestion came congestion surcharges.
On Tuesday, the day before the FMC announced plans to look into these surcharges, CMA CGM announced a new fee targeting Liverpool, United Kingdom. The carrier's reasoning was that "Due to a combination of factors (and notably a significant increase in import container arrivals as well as a port congestion), the operational costs have significantly increased in Liverpool port over the past weeks," according to its customer advisory. The cost of CMA CGM's surcharge is $150 per TEU.
CMA CGM isn't alone. Other carriers, including MSC and Maersk of the 2M alliance, have issued these surcharges in recent months.
Along with ensuring shippers are given proper notice and the purpose of the surcharges are clearly defined, the FMC will be looking at if it's clear what triggers the surcharges and what will lead to them going away.
"Responses will likely take a narrative form, for the most part," DeCrosta said in an email. "However, some data involving dates and numerous trades involved may be expected to be in spreadsheet form. The responses may also lead to additional questions to one or more of the carriers."
Carriers have until Aug. 13 to provide the information requested by the agency.