Marine Transportation System

A Transparent FMC Strategy

In Federal Maritime Commission, Ports, Uncategorized, Vessels on September 21, 2018 at 9:08 am

The Federal Maritime Commission met this week to hear Commissioner Rebecca Dye describe her interim report on the Fact Finding No. 28 (FF28) examination of detention, demurrage and free time practices of ocean carriers and marine terminal operators (MTOs). Dye reported to Acting Chairman (and only other seated commissioner) Michael Khouri. Her report was publicly released on September 5. A final report on the investigation, prompted by petitioning cargo and drayage interests who fault carrier and terminal practices and fees, is scheduled to be delivered on December 2.

The 19-page interim report on the non-adjudicatory investigation is based substantially on information obtained through FMC “served orders comprising questions and document requests on twenty-three ocean carriers and forty-four marine terminal operators and operating ports, and solicited evidence concerning demurrage and detention practices from cargo interests (shippers and consignees).”  The FMC also held two days of hearings in January of this year. The report’s conclusion points to both a stated desire to avoid issuing regulatory prescriptions — that some have argued the FMC would not have authority to do — and an inclination to reprise Commissioner Dye’s prior experience of shepherding industry people to develop a solution that the agency has no power to require.

Based on the volume of valuable information provided by VOCCs, MTOs, shippers, OTIs, drayage providers, and others in the industry, it is apparent the industry’s demurrage and detention practices can be improved with the involvement of industry leaders.

Commissioner Dye sees the experience of the complaining parties as more widespread than episodic.

The resulting record strongly suggests that concerns about demurrage and detention in U.S. trades are not limited primarily to weather-or-labor-related port congestion in 2014-2015, a small subset of large ports, or episodic events unrelated to potentially systemic issues.

Examples are cited as to how current carrier and MTO practices vary in many respects, including even how detention and demurrage are defined. According to the commissioner, the collected data suggest “six areas to be developed” by the FMC as approaches to improve current practices in the market:

  1. Transparent, standardized language for demurrage, detention, and free time practices;
  2. Clarity, simplification, and accessibility regarding demurrage and detention (a) billing practice, and (b) dispute resolution processes;
  3. Explicit guidance regarding types of evidence relevant to resolving demurrage and detention disputes;
  4. Consistent notice to shippers of container availability;
  5. An optional billing model wherein (a) MTOs bill shippers directly for demurrage; and (b) VOCCs bill shippers for detention; and
  6. An FMC Shipper Advisory or Innovation Team.

One can’t help noting in the last item the reference only to “shipper” (cargo interest) in the FMC’s summary version. The somewhat longer version is phrased similarly, suggesting that Dye would give special status — and the agency’s ear — to shippers.

The record supports the need for continual input from U.S. shippers into issues affecting the international freight delivery system, including the potential future formation of a Shipper Advisory Board or Innovation Team after the close of the investigation. The Commission will also consider Advisory Boards or Innovation Teams comprised of Ports and FMC stakeholders as well. [emphasis added]

“Innovation team” is a reference to a tool employed by Commissioner Dye in her follow-up to the FMC’s 2015 report, “U.S. Container Port Congestion & Related International Supply Chain Issues: Causes, Consequences & Challenges.” In that instance, the commissioner invited supply chain stakeholders to participate in closed-door deliberations intended to identify both the central cause of the “congestion” problem and how to solve it. Doubtless, many participants thought it better to be in the room than not.

In her 2017 report, “The Commission’s Supply Chain Innovation Initiative,” she summarized the work of the six “supply chain innovation teams” (three each addressing import and export trades).

[T]he “Value Proposition” for increasing supply chain performance is providing visibility of critical information throughout the commercial supply chain.

~ ~ ~

[Such visibility] across the American freight delivery system was the one operational innovation that would most increase US international supply chain performance. It was not about information technology per se – but an effort to (a) achieve changes in perspective and in behavior to “harmonize” the operation of the freight delivery system and to (b) increase systemic efficiency and performance. Without the right information, supply chain actors are essentially “flying blind.”

A web-based portal for the sharing of cargo status information was the suggested solution by the import teams. The kind that is being tested in the San Pedro ports now.

Note the similarity of the commissioner’s conclusion in the above 2017 report and the direction that her new interim report on terminal and carrier practices is taking. Both look for transparency and standards. Both aim to corral [one or more] stakeholders to have them devise a potentially system-wide solution.

At the FMC meeting this week, Commissioner Dye wrapped up her oral report by asking and answering, “how will the investigation proceed?” She said the commission wants to “determine how to ensure that reasonable notice of cargo availability and reasonable opportunity to pick up cargo can be achieved.” In developing the final report, she said she “will not be repairing to a regulatory ivory tower to reflect in solitude on these issues” but will seek input from the practitioners.

Dye will look for those who have been “most helpful and thorough” during phase one of the investigation. She said she already has heard from “quite a few” carriers and MTOs who want to help, and she firmly indicated she want to hear from people. To emphasize her availability, the commissioner will post her travel schedule to facilitate outreach by persons outside the Washington Beltway.

Acting Chairman Khouri followed Dye’s remarks by encouraging stakeholders to participate. He said that any recommendation for a rulemaking would be “premature,” but he isn’t ready to rule one out.

[That is not] a first choice but…at the end of the day, if there are persistent practices that are found unjust and unreasonable, and stakeholders do not want to listen and proactively adjust business practices for other stakeholders, it will remain on the list.

One hears both commissioners issue more than a cordial invitation to stakeholders to help them bring the FF28 examination of carrier and terminal practices to a satisfactory conclusion. Their message is clear. Fix it — (we’ll gladly facilitate) — or be regulated.

Carriers and terminals consider detention and demurrage fees, and free time practices, to be wholly a matter of the commercial relationship. Nothing the FMC need involve itself in. Regardless of whether they have the necessary statutory authority to regulate this aspect of the commercial relationship, the commissioners have hit upon a non-regulatory way. They are empowered with the expectation that the concerned parties, terminal operators and carriers included, will be willing to address supply chain problems as Rebecca Dye’s report depicts them.   Pbea

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: