FMC monitors coronavirus impacts on container industry’s competitive health

The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission, which is charged with ensuring fair competition in international container shipping, said it is closely monitoring the impacts of the coronavirus on the industry’s health.

On March 12, Commissioner Daniel Maffei said he was briefed by senior FMC staff on the  commercial impacts that the agency is seeing so far from the coronavirus on America’s container shipping industry.

Maffei said he is “confident in the commission’s response so far,” adding that “I think the public should know that the chairman, commissioners and professional staff are paying close attention and understand the outbreak is causing disruptive conditions in the supply chain.”

In a telephone interview with American Shipper, Maffei said more complaints may be received by the FMC during the “unwinding phase” of the coronavirus outbreak.

The commission recently received a letter from the Harbor Trucking Association in Southern California. The organization is concerned about the marine terminal operational impacts that the coronavirus is currently having on its trucker members to pick up and drop off containers at the terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The truckers are particularly concerned about the possible assessment of undue demurrage and detention charges by the marine terminal operators and ocean carriers.

“We want to be a catalyst for stakeholders to work these things out among themselves,” Maffei said.

So far, most of the complaints received by the FMC’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services are related to the impacts of the coronavirus on the cruise industry.  

“The [FMC’s] Bureau of Trade Analysis and Bureau of Enforcement are participating in meetings with industry stakeholders in order to enable them to reach mutually agreeable solutions to manage the crisis conditions. The commission is closely monitoring what’s going on in the industry and has the authority to gather more information if circumstances warrant,” Maffei said.

“Right now, I believe most ocean carriers and marine terminal operators are acting responsibly and fairly in these challenging conditions,” the commissioner said. “However, it would be especially unfair to the good actors if anyone is allowed to abuse a public health crisis for financial advantage, and I will strongly advocate for the commission to investigate fully any potential violations of the Shipping Act that occur as the situation unfolds.”