Empty Containers in East Coast Ports enter FMC's Crosshairs
While there are many layers to the continued container shipping supply chain woes, and the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission has set its sites on the nuisance of empty containers clogging traffic, on the heals of FMC Chairman Maffei's visit to the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey.
"In my view, the congestion emanates from the lack of accountability in moving the buildup of empty containers back into the terminals," said Carl W. Bentzel, Commissioner with FMC. "Empty containers, and perhaps even export containers, are being rejected for return or delivery, because of the surging levels of imports that need to be handled. The industry needs to come together to plan how to better respond to the current challenges of returning empties to the Port."
This is not a new or unique situation, as it was observed by FMC in 2021 while touring the Port of NY/NJ, and in fact Commissioner Bentzel contends "the situation has gotten much worse" and reportedly spreading to other east coast ports, with the Port of Baltimore reporting an overflow of empty containers negatively impacting port fluidity, according to FMC.
"In my view, it is fundamentally unfair to require small and large trucking companies to pay storage costs to store ocean carrier owned containers," said Commissioner Bentzel. "I would point out that we are still receiving allegations that, in addition to storage costs that, perhaps some carriers may also still be assessing detention charges, even though it is impossible to return containers – a double whammy."
Commissioner Bentzel said Section 18 of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA) establishes a comment process to solicit public comment on this sort of emergency. "If after reviewing comments, the Commission unanimously agrees, then the FMC is authorized to order information sharing requirements on industry behavior," said Commissioner Bentzel.