During a recent meeting with chemical distributors, Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl W. Bentzel heard concerns about systemic reductions for hazardous materials transportation via ocean. The distributors source chemical products from manufacturers overseas and sell them to U.S. customers in industries that use these chemicals to produce a wide range of goods critical to the economy and public health. Many of these chemical products are no longer domestically manufactured but are essential components of programs and products used by U.S. consumers daily.
Now an FMC Commissioner is asking that the issue be addressed in the current FMC Vessel-Operating Common Carrier Audit program.
“I am troubled by reports that ocean carriers might be refusing to serve shippers importing hazardous materials,” said Commissioner Bentzel. “The inability to import these commodities could in turn harm U.S. manufacturers, and potentially jeopardize U.S. programs related to water purification and other strategic U.S. services and commodities that rely on the movement of international cargoes of hazardous materials.
“Current surges of import cargoes have continued to stretch the abilities of the ocean liner industry. While I understand the fundamental challenges of addressing supply and demand in the congested intermodal transportation environment, shrinking shipping capacity could limit certain cargo movements. This means that market decisions by ocean carriers will determine who, and to what extent, shippers will receive service.
“46 U.S.C.§ 41104(a)(10) prohibits carriers from unreasonable refusals to deal, and 46 U.S.C.§ 41102(c) generally requires ocean carriers, ’to establish, observe and enforce just and reasonable regulations and practices relating to or connected with receiving, handling, storing, or delivering property‘. These provisions, and others related to federal safety requirements governing the safe transportation of hazardous materials, help ensure that hazardous material cargoes are not discriminated against because of the nature of the material being shipped.
“Given the potential implications of systemic refusals by shipping lines, I am urging that we broaden the scope of the Vessel-Operating Common Carrier Audit Program to include review of whether there have been any systemic decisions by ocean carriers to discriminate against hazardous materials transportation. Such a review could be conducted within the existing audit program and will make FMC oversight more focused and thorough during this volatile time.”