In response to trucking complaints about congestion, Maritime Commission demands more from port agreement

The Port of Los Angeles faced a major cargo backlog earlier this year following months of tense negotiations between port workers and port management companies.The Port of Los Angeles faced a major cargo backlog earlier this year following months of tense negotiations between port workers and port management companies.

The Federal Maritime Commission is requiring additional documentation on an agreement between ocean carriers and West Coast terminal operators following complaints by trucking companies about congestion and chassis supply.

The commission announced July 14 that it is asking vessel-operating common carriers in the Pacific Ports Operational Improvements Agreement to provide agreements with West Coast terminal operators. It is assessing the competitive impact of the PPOIA, which was meant to permit discussion and cooperation to alleviate congestion in West Coast ports.

The FMC also is demanding PPOIA-related information concerning discussion and agreement on chassis after trucking companies complained about chassis inspection procedures by some terminal operators.

Motor carriers and other stakeholders have told the agency PPOIA members are violating the federal Shipping Act. Members use the agreement to implement the chassis inspection and repair provisions of the recent labor contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. These inspection and repair requirements unfairly burden motor carriers and chassis-leasing companies, truckers have said.

The commission said it had difficulty obtaining information from some PPOIA members and is now exercising its authority under the 1984 act to demand documentation.

It received a June 10 letter signed by numerous stakeholders, including California’s and Washington’s trucking association and Southern California’s Harbor Trucking Association. They wrote that they had been assessed demurrage or detention charges during peak congestion periods, despite not being responsible for the delays that triggered these charges.

Motor carriers and others argued that the act provides the FMC authority to prohibit penalty fees “when factors beyond the control of the shipper, receiver or motor carrier make it impossible for them to return chassis or empty containers, or pick up or drop off loaded containers within free time limits.”

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Also July 14, the commission released an 88-page summary of stakeholder feedback on port congestion and related supply chain issues it gathered at nationwide forums last fall.

The FMC reported is considering establishing an intermodal advisory committee. Initially it could offer suggestions for regulating marine terminal operators and vessel operating common carriers demurrage and detention rates, rules and practices.

Trucking companies advocated an automatic extension of free time when terminal congestion prevents timely removal or delivery of containers.

The report noted that motor carriers plan to push the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to enforce roadability compliance. FMCSA, however, is not responsible for ensuring chassis availability, but the companies argue that is charged with ensuring chassis is in safe condition before being interchanged with the trucker or motor carrier.