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FMC Probes Shipping Lines’ Anti-Retaliation Compliance

December 26, 2022

The Federal Maritime Commission is asking the top 20 shipping lines calling the United States to provide information on how they are complying with the new prohibitions on retaliation established by the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA).

The added protections against retaliation were created by Section 5 of OSRA and became effective immediately upon the law’s enactment in June. The prohibitions apply to common carriers, marine terminal operators (MTO), and ocean transportation intermediaries.

The Commission’s Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (VOCC) Audit Team is examining how ocean carriers are adapting to the increased prohibitions on retaliatory and discriminatory behavior. The Team will specifically focus on how companies are training personnel at all levels to act legally, and how those same employees are being made aware of the consequences for violating the law.

“The Ocean Shipping Reform Act made it clear that it is absolutely illegal for ocean carriers to discriminate or retaliate against a shipper for filing a complaint or challenging a charge. The FMC will thoroughly investigate any allegation of illegal behavior and prosecute aggressively when warranted. This is something that everyone in a company, from the newest sales associate to the CEO, must understand and that is why the VOCC Audit Team is carrying this message directly to ocean carriers serving the United States. Even a simple verbal threat to a shipper from an ocean carrier employee could undermine U.S. law and will not be tolerated,” said Chairman Daniel B. Maffei.

The examination began earlier this week via correspondence and all recipients will have until mid-January to provide their initial responses. Additionally, the VOCC Audit Team will discuss this topic in person and in deeper detail with the 11 largest carriers participating in the next round of meetings through the VOCC Audit Program.

The top 11 carriers were reached through their designated compliance officer. One of the Final Recommendations Commissioner Rebecca Dye made at the administrative conclusion of Fact Finding 29 in May was that all ocean carriers and MTOs designate a Commission compliance officer who reports directly to the most senior executive responsible for business in the United States. Each of the companies participating in the VOCC Audit Program voluntarily responded promptly and positively to this recommendation.

The VOCC Audit Program was established in July 2021 by Chairman Maffei with the initial mandate of assessing ocean carrier compliance with the FMC’s rule on demurrage and detention. In March 2022, Chairman Maffei ordered the program’s scope expanded to also evaluate how shipping lines serve U.S. exporters. The VOCC Audit Program allows the Commission to engage ocean carriers directly and frequently to raise and resolve issues of concern.

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