23 July 2021


The US Federal Maritime Committee (FMC) has launched a new audit program and dedicated audit team to assess carrier compliance with the Agency’s rule on detention and demurrage as well as to provide additional information beneficial to the regular monitoring of the marketplace for ocean cargo services. With a new audit unit, the FMC intensifies its focus on competition in the container market.

The maritime authority has established the Vessel-Operating Common Carrier Audit Program with the aim of ensuring that companies involved in ocean freight to the US comply with the FMC's rules for detention and demurrage related to the handling of goods. Furthermore, the new unit will ask the nine largest carriers sailing to the US to provide additional information beneficial to the regular monitoring of the market for ocean freight.

"The Federal Maritime Commission is committed to making certain the law is followed and that shippers do not suffer from unfair disadvantages. The work of the audit team will enable the Commission to monitor trends in demurrage and detention practices and revenue, as well as to establish ongoing dialog between staff and carriers on challenges facing the supply chain," says FMC chair Daniel B. Maffei in the announcement.

American Shipper reported on Wednesday that the FMC is now also calling for additional budget to perform these tasks. “I am concerned that we need more enforcement capacity to really take on the big carriers when they do something that is against the Shipping Act,” Maffei testified. “That’s why my emphasis has been so much on enforcement, auditing, and more and more scrutiny of these carriers.” “We don’t have the authority to go after rates, but we do have the authority to go after [ancillary] fees if they’re unreasonable. Some of these fees we believe are being charged — like detention — even though there’s no way the shipper can do anything. That’s what we’re really trying to get at.”

The announcement of FMC's new audit unit comes after Joe Biden signed an executive order last week, which, among other things, encourages the maritime authority to increase its focus on competition in the container market, where a shortage of capacity and record demand is currently keeping rates at a historical high.

"On international shipping, the executive order calls on the Federal Maritime Commission to crack down on unjust and unreasonable fees and work with the Justice Department to investigate and punish anticompetitive conduct," said the Biden administration's press secretary Jen Psaki during the press conference announcing the executive order. She noted that three major alliances, 2M, THE Alliance and Ocean Alliance, control upwards of 80 percent of the global container market.