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FMC Seeking Input on Request for New Rules Against Unfair Port Charges

Thursday, December 29, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The Federal Maritime Commission is accepting comments through Feb. 28 on a petition seeking new rules that would prevent terminal operators and ocean carriers from charging unfair demurrage and detention fees when uncontrollable incidents such as storms and strikes keep cargo from being picked up from ports on time. This petition was submitted Dec. 7 by a coalition of importers, exporters, freight forwarders, customs brokers, and third-party logistics providers.

Cargo owners and trucking companies are normally given a certain number of free days to pick up containers of imported goods from ports after they have been unloaded from ships. After that period they can be charged demurrage, a fee intended to ensure that containers are removed quickly and efficiently. In addition, detention and per diem fees can be charged if the containers and the chassis used to haul them are not returned within a specified time.

The petition is requesting that the FMC use its existing statutory authority to adopt a policy that would require marine terminal operators and ocean carriers to extend free days during times of port congestion, weather-related events, port disruptions, delays caused by government actions, or other requirements beyond the control of the parties picking up or returning containers. In addition, the petition asks the FMC to declare demurrage and similar fees charged by carriers and MTOs during such incidents to be unreasonable under the Shipping Act. The petition would allow for compensatory fees to be charged in some cases as long as they do not exceed actual storage or equipment use costs.

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