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Statement of Commissioner Bentzel on Maritime Shipping and Coronavirus Impacts

Posted

Update 3/25/2020: Commissioner Bentzel updated his statement to reflect recent actions. The updates are in bold.

The maritime industry has been deeply affected as a result of the upheaval caused by the coronavirus and its impacts to Chinese manufacturing and logistics services. Ocean carriers have been forced to cancel services (“blanked sailings”) to and from China and the United States.  The Federal Maritime Commission has been monitoring levels of blanked sailings and conferring with ocean carrier representatives about levels of service and the potential resumption of normal trade. News reports have indicated that U.S. retailers are running low on imported goods, that U.S. manufacturers — such as the automobile manufacturing industry — are suffering depletion of imported component parts necessary for production, and that U.S. exporters are finding logistical challenges exporting U.S. agricultural commodities.

Information provided from shipping lines involved in the trans-Pacific trades indicate that cargo levels and services are resuming to pre-coronavirus levels. It should be expected that coronavirus impacts will linger over the next few weeks while vessels are engaged in the cross-Pacific transit, and hopefully we are poised to achieve normalcy in the transport of goods. To be clear, there may still be logistical challenges in processing cargoes into United States commerce.

The Commission continues to be in contact with industry representatives who indicate that services should be resuming at close to near regular levels as early as next week. The U.S. export industry is struggling to secure refrigerated “reefer” cargo containers. Although this will be ameliorated as maritime service levels resume, there could be further lag time, as these containers will have to be processed domestically prior to being used for export of U.S. commodities.

Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) took actions to identify “essential critical infrastructure industry”. This listing should clarify that our transportation system workers working as longshoremen, trucking, railroad employees, and other affiliated organizations such as truck and rest stops operators, should be exempted from restrictions that restrict their abilities to function. This action should help avoid issues such as the provision of priority testing for transportation employees, and continuation of services at truck and rest stops to allow the trucking industry to operate with limited interruption. The transportation industry continues to be invaluable to supply U.S. citizens as they are sheltered and will be invaluable as we return to economic normalcy.

His statement follows:

“I was heartened to hear that shipping lines have indicated that there is cargo for pickup and that trucking and port operations have substantially resumed in China. I remain concerned that there will continue to be negative economic impacts as a result of delays, as shipments transit the Pacific from China. I would hope that the industry resists the temptation to take actions to price gouge or otherwise unfairly leverage their position.

It will be necessary for all segments of the transportation industry from the marine terminals to trucking and rail services to help pitch in to secure normalcy. Our ability to recover from this economic disruption through the resumption of maritime commerce underscores the criticality and importance of our maritime trade. Hopefully the resumption of this service can allow our nation to recover as rapidly as possible.

I believe we all owe a debt of gratitude to the ocean carriers and their crews, the longshoremen who continue to process vital supplies, the truckers and railroad laborers who deliver cargo throughout the nation. We have to make sure that our policies continue to allow these vital functions to continue.

Carl W. Bentzel is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.