Ocean Shipping Reform Act introduced by Thune, Johnson set to become law

President Joe Biden is poised to sign into law a bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced by U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) to bolster the authority of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).

The president on June 14 received the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022, S. 3580, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed on June 13 with a 369-42 vote. The U.S. Senate on March 14 gave the bill voice vote approval.

“Today’s vote proves that Congress can still do big things in a bipartisan way,” said Sen. Thune on Tuesday. “Now that we’ve cleared this hurdle, I’m glad that my Ocean Shipping Reform Act will soon be the law of the land.”

“I am grateful that the House and Senate came to an agreement on these important reforms to our nation’s shipping laws,” Rep. Johnson said.  

The bill requires the FMC — the independent federal agency responsible for regulating the U.S. international ocean transportation system for the benefit of U.S. exporters, importers, and consumers — to investigate complaints about detention and late fees charged by common ocean carriers, determine whether those charges are reasonable, and order refunds for unreasonable charges, according to the congressional record bill summary.

The measure also prohibits common ocean carriers, marine terminal operators or ocean transportation intermediaries from unreasonably refusing cargo space when available or resorting to other unfair or unjustly discriminatory methods, the summary says.

“The common-sense improvements made by this bill will provide the FMC with the tools necessary to address unreasonable practices by ocean carriers and hold them accountable for any bad-faith efforts that disenfranchise American producers, including those throughout South Dakota, who feed the world,” Sen. Thune said. “Especially as Americans continue to grapple with record-high inflation, this legislation would also benefit consumers by promoting the efficiency of the supply chain.”

Sen. Thune on Feb. 3 signed on as the lead original cosponsor of S. 3580 alongside bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and a dozen fellow original cosponsors. Rep. Johnson in August 2021 did the same for the original, identical version of the bill, H.R. 4996, which was sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) and had 95 other cosponsors.   

“Foreign flagged ocean carriers are playing games with American agriculture exports and our bill puts an end to it,” said Rep. Johnson. “The Ocean Shipping Reform Act is the strongest fix to our maritime laws in a generation.

“Americans are facing record inflation,” the congressman added. “Our bill isn’t a silver bullet, but help is on the way.” 

Among several provisions, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act will require ocean common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter on total import/export tonnage and 20-foot equivalent units (loaded/empty) per vessel that makes port in the United States; and authorize the FMC to self-initiate investigations of ocean common carrier’s business practices and apply enforcement measures, as appropriate.