Background

The Federal Maritime Commission is seeking comments by June 7 on certain fees being charged by vessel-operating and non-vessel-operating common carriers. These comments will inform an FMC decision on whether to propose changes to its carrier tariff regulations.

The Shipping Act of 1984 requires VOCCs and NVOCCs to keep open for public inspection in an automated tariff system tariffs showing all rates, charges, classifications, rules, and practices. These tariffs must be made available electronically to any person without time, quantity, or other limitation, though carriers may charge a reasonable fee for such access.

While many major VOCCs and NVOCCs that self-publish tariffs provide access free of charge, the FMC has found that some of the tariff access fees that are being charged may be so high that they effectively prevent users from reviewing certain carrier tariffs, particularly those with substantial minimum charges. This can be an issue not only for shippers that primarily ship cargo under tariff rates but also for shippers using service contracts that need to know applicable rates once their contracts have been fulfilled.

Additionally, some NVOCCs have taken a broad interpretation of the types of charges that may be passed through to shippers without markup in connection with shipments moving under common carrier tariffs, to include all VOCC charges and surcharges as well as VOCC general rate increases. The FMC states that such incorrect pass-through charges could deny shippers full transparency into the total freight charges that apply to a shipment and deprive them of advance notice of any increases in those charges.

The FMC is therefore seeking information on the impact of these fees and requirements and whether they are unreasonable.

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