Tuesday, September 1, 2020

US Truckers Take Legal Action Against Major Container Shipping Lines

FMC to Act on Complaint Over Trade Restriction
Shipping News Feature

US – Once again the message coming from the latest complaint lodged with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is, don't mess with the country's shipping legislation. All in the industry are familiar with the restrictions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act) whereby commercial domestic transport by water requires US built ships, with US crews, servicing etc. Now its twin sister, the Shipping Act, the latest version of which became law in December 2018 under President Trump, is in the spotlight.

Originally enacted in 1916 as a wartime measure to protect the industry, the latest changes were primarily about antitrust issues and spawned by concerns over the container carriers new penchant for alliances. The changes were deigned to protect marine terminal service providers and the like and maintain investment in domestic dock and harbour infrastructure.

In the middle of last month the American Trucking Associations’ Intermodal Motor Carrier Conference (IMCC) filed suit with the FMC alleging foreign-owned ocean shipping lines engaged in unjust and unreasonable conduct in violation of the Shipping Act. The complaint, which can be read in full here, states that those involved have, in the past ten years, overcharged truckers and their customers for intermodal container chassis at ports and inland terminals throughout the United States.

The complaint is aimed at the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA) and eleven container shipping lines, namely CMA CGM, COSCO, Evergreen, Hapag Lloyd, Maersk, HMM, MSC, ONE, Wan Hai, Yang Ming and Zim, stating they all denied trucking companies choice when leasing essential equipment, forcing unjust and unreasonable prices upon them.

Hoping to avoid legal action, IMCC sent a Cease and Desist letter to OCEMA and the ocean carriers in May, but OCEMA failed to address the violations that were raised, as ATA Chairman Randy Guillot, and president of Triple G Express and Southeastern Motor Freight explains:

“By denying motor carriers their choice of chassis provider to haul goods in and out of ports, OCEMA’s overseas members have held US motor carriers hostage and forced them to subsidise the shipping lines. So far OCEMA and its members have rejected all of our attempts to reach a fair and equitable arrangement, but we believe they’ll have less success ignoring the FMC.”

In its complaint the IMCC outlines a number of ongoing violations of the Shipping Act and is seeking injunctive relief against OCEMA and the shipping lines, and the spirit of the objections was summed up by Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president for advocacy, who said:

“For more than a decade, these foreign-owned companies have worked together to take advantage of hard-working American trucking companies. By denying truckers choice of equipment providers at port and inland locations, these unscrupulous companies have been forcing American truckers and American consumers to subsidise their costs to the tune of nearly $1.8 billion, over the last three years alone. This must end, and after several attempts to come to a mutually beneficial resolution, we are now asking the FMC to resolve it.”