© Alan Stoddard |

The US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has opened an investigation into the actions of the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA), following reports that the organisation and its members are not complying with a ruling on rights of shippers and truckers on choosing chassis to move containers.

In February, an FMC administrative law judge ruled that OCEMA’s practice of requiring truckers to use specific intermodal chassis providers to move containers violates the US Shipping Act and issued a cease-and-desist order to OCEMA and its members.

This ended a legal battle that had started in 2020 when the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference filed a complaint accusing OCEMA and its members of having denied carriers and cargo owners the ability to choose their provider when leasing chassis.

Frustration over the issue came to a boil at the height of the congestion in 2022 that frequently impaired truckers’ ability co-ordinate moves to drop off and pick up containers. This resulted in missed appointments and soaring detention and demurrage (D&D) charges.

Chassis were in short supply, partly because cargo owners used containers on chassis as supplemental storage to alleviate the pressure on full warehouses.

Paul Brashier, VP global supply chain at ITS Logistics, said: “Chassis are one of the most important pieces in the supply chain.”

And even before the gridlock of 2022, D&D charges were a major headache. The ATA estimates that the repercussions from OCEMA’s policy cost US truckers and consumers about $1.8bn between 2017 and 2020.

The ruling in February was supposed to settle the dispute between OCEMA and truckers, but the FMC has decided to investigate after receiving complaints of chassis providers violating the ruling in four markets since then.

The regulator has tasked its Bureau of Enforcement, Investigations and Compliance (BEIC) with examining whether OCEMA and its members have altered their policies and practices in line with the cease-and-desist order from February. If it finds evidence of violations, the FMC may seek an injunction, but the BEIC can initiate its own enforcement action and seek civil penalties for non-compliance with an FMC order.

ITS Logistics, whose portfolio includes drayage operations at several US gateways, has not had any problems with chassis availability, Mr Brashier reported. He attributed this to two developments since the days of congestion: a lot of new chassis have been added to the pool; and traffic volumes have been relatively low.

Still, he had seen chassis pools get depleted, notably in Chicago and Memphi,s and, to a lesser extent, at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, he said. Pointing to predictions of a strong peak season for US imports, he expects to see some pressure at the major ports, extending from there to inland points, later this summer.

The prospect does not worry him, though.

“We’re interfacing in managing with our clients’ business at origin. That gives us six weeks to prepare in North America,” he said, adding that this is part of a broader shift away from reacting to events to a more proactive focus.”

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