Commissioner Daniel B. Maffei Statement on Coronavirus and the Shipping Industry
I want to applaud Chairman Khouri and my fellow Commissioners for issuing a unanimous statement explaining the Federal Maritime Commission’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on the shipping industry. As the statement indicates, my colleagues and I have been working during these uncertain times to execute the Commission’s mission as well as advocate within the Federal government for the companies and workers whose functions are so vital to the supply chain in times of crisis.
Although the effects of the pandemic in China have somewhat subsided, the resumption of vast amounts of cargo moving from Asia through the supply chain and swings in U.S. demand will bring up new challenges as our country goes through the midst of the public health crisis.
We know shippers do not have sufficient access to refrigerated containers, ports are facing excess numbers of empties, and terminals and warehousing facilities are dealing with operational difficulties due to volume swings, potential cases of COVID-19, and shortages of appropriate equipment to properly protect vital workers from becoming sick.
The good news is that dedicated workers in marine terminals as well the sailors, truckers, and rail workers – and all of those that support them – are continuing to work through this crisis and serve the nation. Federal, state, and local officials have wisely recognized longshoremen, truckers, and other workers in the supply chain are essential and have exempted them from stay-at-home orders. Continued support from government at all levels is important to keep cargo moving through the supply chain. For example, state and local officials need to listen to transportation and supply chain experts when they are advised to allow facilities to open – such as cargo storage facilities or truck stops – that may not seem essential but, in effect, must stay functioning to maintain the supply chain of essential goods. Of course, these facilities must take precautions recommended by public health authorities as other essential facilities do.
Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with stakeholders throughout the industry. Throughout the supply chain, we are seeing examples of how a crisis can bring out the best in people, corporations, and institutions. I find it remarkable how resilient our supply chains are in the face of such a world-wide crisis. That said, we all need to “batten down the hatches” as it appears matters will get worse before they get better. Also, in such a vast industry, we need to acknowledge there may be a few bad actors and be ready to take serious enforcement actions against anyone who acts in an unreasonable manner during a national emergency.
As our joint statement indicates, an important role for the Commission is its ability to bring stakeholders in the ocean supply chain together to address problems. As I mentioned last week, collaboration is key to managing this crisis. If any part of the supply chain or any group of stakeholders bears too much of the burden, the entire system is at risk. Challenges that threaten the entire supply chain include the need for extra cargo container space, equipment shortages in key geographic regions, and temporary closures of port or warehouse facilities. These situations and others that arise may require various stakeholders to put aside their preconceptions and work together to find solutions. I believe the Commission – and in some instances one or more individual commissioners – will do all we can to be a catalyst in finding such solutions.
Daniel B. Maffei is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are his own and do not represent the position of the Commission.