In the past three years, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has witnessed a significant surge in complaints, resulting in a threefold increase in cases brought before the Commission. The rise in grievances was largely attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, the majority of these complaints centered around two specific cases, according to Alphaliner.
Over the span of 12 months leading up to September, the FMC imposed substantial penalties totaling $2.89 million against carriers. Ocean Network Express (ONE) and Wan Hai Lines were at the center of the controversy, reaching a settlement agreement with the Commission. In this agreement, both carriers agreed to pay a combined sum of $2.65 million. The financial resolution encompassed matters related to detention and demurrage fees, as well as the restitution costs incurred by shippers.
It is noteworthy that these settlements were initiated by the FMC itself and not prompted by individual shipper complaints submitted to the Commission.
In an effort to enhance the efficiency of addressing complaints, the FMC introduced a streamlined process for reporting grievances via email in July 2022. Since its inception, companies have submitted a total of 394 complaints through this channel. As reported by the Financial Times, the FMC successfully resolved 36 cases related to these complaints within the year leading up to September. This figure reflects a nearly threefold increase from two years prior. To accommodate this growing caseload, the FMC has been actively recruiting, increasing its staff numbers from 110 to approximately 135, with aspirations to reach a staff count of 160 in the near future.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, shippers witnessed a notable surge in their complaints, with a predominant focus on issues related to detention and demurrage fees, as well as congestion surcharges. In response, the FMC conducted 43 investigations into reports of erroneous charges, and shipping companies independently resolved 101 of the cases.