FMC’s Dye keeps eye on COVID-19-challenged US supply chains

The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) official in charge of monitoring the current U.S. supply chain impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic said she has brought together myriad industry stakeholders to find immediate remedies to these problems and prepare for the reopening of the economy.

“We need to be ready in our seaports for the increased cargo that we know is coming soon,” FMC Commissioner Rebecca Dye told attendees of the virtual annual Agriculture Transportation Coalition conference on Wednesday, May 20.

“I believe that if we prepare now, we will be in a position to support the American economy when it comes roaring back very soon,” she said.

Scores of blank sailings by the ocean container carriers, temporary marine terminal closures and slowdowns, and upheaval in the intermodal transportation system started in March. Because of the pandemic’s rapid spread and imposition of government social distancing measures, the FMC mobilized to address the COVID-19 supply chain impacts.

The FMC’s March 31 order, known as Fact Finding 29 International Ocean Transportation Supply Chain Engagement, highlighted the commission’s statutory mandate to “ensure efficient and economic transportation system for ocean commerce.”

The order also stated that “the commission has determined there is a compelling need to convene new Supply Chain Innovation Teams to address these challenges.”

Dye, who was placed in charge of the fact finding, quickly established nine supply chain innovation teams which consist of representatives from the nation’s public port authorities, marine terminal operators, shippers, ocean transportation intermediaries, liner shipping companies, drayage trucking companies, longshore labor representatives, rail officials, and chassis providers.

The teams have, so far, identified four “urgent” problems, Dye said. They include difficulties with container returns to the terminals and carriers, confusion with export receiving dates from the ocean carriers, lack of reasonable notice of terminal closures, and need for wider distribution of information on blank sailings and East Coast skipped ports from the ocean carriers.

“The challenge that I find is that nobody ‘owns’ many of our problems,” Dye said. “So, I have enlisted the major carrier CEOs in the USA/North America to use their influence to lead on these improvements.”

She has also urged the country’s marine terminal operators and port authorities involved with the supply chain innovation teams to do the same.

Last year, she successfully concluded Fact Finding 28, spending the past two years with shipping industry representatives to develop the demurrage and detention fees imposition guidelines.

Dye said the purpose of the commission’s work is to find “forward leaning improvements to the [freight transportation] system.”

She said, “The freight delivery system is the very backbone of the American economy. Improving the performance of the freight delivery system in the United States boosts the vibrant export and import trades in our country.”

As a result of the Fact Finding 29’s supply chain innovation teams’ early work, the FMC announced on April 27 order that it would temporarily allow service contracts to be filed up to 30 days after they take effect to provide relief to shippers and ocean container carriers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This relief will remain in place through December 31, 2020, the FMC said.

The FMC has authority under the Shipping Act to make certain regulatory adjustments when necessary.

Dye told the Agriculture Transportation Coalition members, who honored her for steadfast work to improve the U.S. ocean shipping industry, that Fact Finding 29’s work is moving quickly. “I will update on our progress with regular press releases rather than a final report,” she said.