– is it time for Ghana to consider?
Reports from the USA state that, shipping lines Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM are set to face the findings of a US Federal Maritime Commission (the “Commission”) probe into congestion fees that liner operators have begun charging shippers.
The Commission announced in a post on 4th August 2021 (www.fmc.gov), that it was requesting documentation from eight companies to see if new fees charged ostensibly due to congestion were implemented properly. They stated that “The Federal Maritime Commission has launched an expedited inquiry into the timing and legal sufficiency of ocean carrier practices with respect to certain surcharges”.
The report in TradeWinds (an international maritime publication) stated that the some of the other liners targeted are HMM, Matson, Mediterranean Shipping Co, Orient Overseas Container Line, SM Line and Zim. The liners were given until 13th August 2021 to submit documentation to the Commission.
The Commission chairman Daniel Maffei said the agency had been hearing about new, unexpected fees being charged by liners.
“It seems to me that these factors would already have been included into the record-high rates charged by the carriers,” he said in a statement.
The Commission is responsible with regulating shipping in accordance with the US Shipping Act and has launched several initiatives following the 9th July 2021 executive order from President Joe Biden on competitiveness in the US economy.
The eight companies called upon to answer to the Commission differ from the nine the watchdog announced in July 2021 that it would be auditing for detention and demurrage practices.
The above process is something that may have to be considered by the Ghanaian authorities. There have been consistent complaints from Ghanaian shippers, freight forwarder and agents over cost and surcharges at the Ghanaian ports.
MSC, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd and HMM are involved in both probes in the USA, with AP Moller-Maersk, Cosco, Ocean Network Express, Evergreen and Yang Ming also included in the probe by the Commission.
In a statement to TradeWinds, Hapag-Lloyd said the current sky-high freight rates were the result of “exceptionally strong demand” from the US, plus from infrastructure bottlenecks across the supply chain.
“We are doing everything in our power to cope with this strong demand, to provide additional transport capacity and to meet the needs of our customers,” the company said.
“At the same time, these inefficiencies cause additional costs and remain a burden for all market participants, including the carriers.”
The German company said it always complies “with filing requirements as defined by relevant authorities”.
The French shipping giant CMA CGM said it is fully complying with the Commission and would “provide them with all relevant information”.
In addition to the probe and the congestion fee investigation, the Commission has asked for more powers and changes to laws to make it easier for shippers to bring complaints against liners, and it has executed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice’s antitrust division.
Ghanaian industry players have long since challenged the legitimacy of these “arbitrary” surcharges. Clients have cited ongoing service delays, container shortages and punitive surcharges as having emerged in the current market.
It may be time for the shipping authorities and regulators in Ghana to also consider such measures as been investigated by the Commission in the USA. It is evident that efforts should be made to assist shippers in Ghana to better understand and challenge any fees that are imposed by shipping lines locally.
The writer is the Managing Partner Asare Barimah & Associates ,Maritime and Oil & Gas Specialist