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Maersk faces high-profile shipper complaint

Maersk faces high-profile shipper complaint
Sam Chambers November 15, 2022

Maersk is the latest carrier to face the ire of American shippers in a high-profile case that will spark greater debate about global carrier dominance in international trade.

OJ Commerce (OJC), a Florida-based furniture importer, has filed a case with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) in Washington DC against the Danish carrier and its subsidiary Hamburg Sud, hitting out at alleged price gouging, collusion and contract breaches, the latest in a series of complaints hitting the FMC’s busy in-tray.

The accusations from OJC are more headline-grabbing than other recent complaints, and have been given further limelight by the American firm’s decision to go very public on the case with a long report carried by the New York Times among others.

OJC claims Maersk failed to honour its contract, and when it complained the carrier simply cut the company off leaving OJC to navigate the hugely expensive spot market.

Responding to questions sent by Splash, a spokesperson for the company said: “We will not comment on specific aspects of active litigation outside of the current FMC process, which allows both sides the opportunity to fairly state their positions.”

“Maersk has fleeced the world economy during the pandemic without qualm or remorse to reap its historically-record profits, while consumers, shippers, and the world suffer from 40-year-high inflation driven in large part by the ocean carriers’ pricing tactics,” the OJC filing states, adding: “In blunter language, Maersk price gouged, as it took full advantage of the global crisis to extort as much money as it possibly could from shippers. This can be achieved because a small cartel of carriers – organized into three cozy alliances – rule the oceans. Their dominance is anchored in large part on federal antitrust immunity granted by the Shipping Act.”

Other cases are stacking up against Maersk and its peers. In September Splash reported U Shippers Group, an association of shippers, had filed a complaint with the FMC against Maersk, alleging violations of the Shipping Act.

Other carriers forced to deploy lawyers this year as cases ramp up at the FMC include CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, MSC, Ocean Network Express, Wan Hai, Yang Ming and ZIM.

Commenting on all the cases piling up at the FMC, Bjorn Vang Jensen, a vice president at liner consultancy Sea-Intelligence, told Splash: “It seems quite clear from both the complaints and suits filed and from my own experience that carriers, and to some extent forwarders, over-reached in many cases. It is a classic case of hubris, and we all know what follows hubris.”

Jensen, a man whose career has seen him work for the likes of Maersk and Electrolux in the past, cautioned: “At the same time, one must be careful to pre-judge a case on the information the parties choose to reveal to the press. Without detailed knowledge of both the contract, and the shipper’s history of delivering as contracted, it is dangerous and irresponsible to make calls on individual cases.”