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Maritime regulator the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) yesterday launched a probe into claims that shipping lines serving the US “may be attempting to hold companies financially responsible for transport services they did not contract for and may not legally be required to pay”.

The FMC issued a notice of inquiry (NOI) after receiving complaints from industry associations representing freight forwarders and 3PLs, hauliers and customs brokers that their members had been approached by shipping lines looking to enforce various terms of the bill of lading of a shipment, such as collection of freight rates, equipment charges and detention and demurrage charges, despite the fact that they are “not party to, and have not agreed to be bound by the bill of lading”.

The commission added: “Allegations have also been received that VOCCs [vessel-owning common carriers] threaten to discontinue allowing such third parties to provide service for future shipments unless amounts due on current shipments are paid.”

The issue, according to the NOI, appears to revolve around the use of the term “merchant” in the bills of lading, with concerns that carriers have been applying it to third parties that provide shippers with logistics services but have little control over the cargo.

“The New York New Jersey Foreign Freight Forwarders & Brokers Association asserted that VOCCs define the term ‘‘merchant’’ in their bill of lading too broadly, resulting in parties being billed for demurrage and detention, ‘regardless of whether they are truly in control of the cargo when the charges were incurred,’’ the FMC said in a background note to the NOI.

The deadline for receiving public comments is 6 November, and FMC chairman Michael Khouri said: “We encourage ocean container stakeholders to share their experiences with bills of lading that contain these described “merchant” clauses.

“Without public comment and involvement, it is difficult for the commission to address alleged commercial abuse in this area.”

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  • Johnson

    October 09, 2020 at 12:21 am

    I’m one of the victim of what happening with the shipping lines .I leased a container from one of the shipping lines since July of this year and up to now the shipment hasn’t arrive at the final destination yet. Even though it wasn’t my fault at all, but the shipping line end up charging me extra $5,100 for on top of the actual $3,350 that I was supposed to paid them after my shipment arrived at the final destination.When I asked the shipping line as to why I’m paying for something that is not my fault, they told me that those charges was from custom MAERSK line and that I have to pay those fees before I can get my container. At this point I don’t even know who to take my case to because I’m been penalized for something I didn’t do at all. Frankly I’m not the only one that going through this kind of problem with these companies, and we have been taking real advantage of by the shipping lines and someone needs to come to our aid and help us please this is completely wrong. I will highly appreciate someone can reach out to me on this important issue to thanks Johnson.

  • Andy Robins

    October 11, 2020 at 2:09 am

    Dear Loadstar Team,
    We would like to Broadcast this to the WCA Group members (under your name) as many have suffered this due to mainly errant consignees, with a few dubious shippers.
    Await your permission.

    • Alex Lennane

      October 11, 2020 at 9:49 am

      Sure Andy, no problem. It’s also in this issue of VOTI.