The list of complaints against global carriers continues to grow in the most extraordinary year in the history of containerisation.

Carl Bentzel, a commissioner at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), America’s shipping regulator, is pushing to investigate whether containerlines have been deliberately turning away hazardous materials transport contracts.

During a recent meeting with chemical distributors, Bentzel heard concerns about systemic reductions for hazardous materials transportation via ocean. Specifically, distributors source chemical products from manufacturers overseas and sell them to diverse customers in the United States across all 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 US consumers daily.

“I am troubled by reports that ocean carriers might be refusing to serve shippers importing hazardous materials. The inability to import these commodities could in turn harm US manufacturers, and potentially jeopardise US programs related to water purification and other strategic US services and commodities that rely on the movement of international cargoes of hazardous materials,” Bentzel said in a statement last week.

US shipping regulations prohibit carriers from unreasonable refusals to carry cargoes, something that has already seen the agricultural community lobby regulators and politicians to take action against the global liners.

“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,” Bentzel commented.

The FMC is already conducting a significant review of carrier operations, while the ocean supply chain crunch experienced in the US this year has also seen both the White House and Congress take action.

Other countries including China, Vietnam and South Korea have started their own investigations into carrier behaviour in recent months with the container shipping industry on track to post all time record profits, estimated at up to $100bn, despite schedule reliability being at a historic low.


Mr Sam Chambers