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Empty Container Crisis at the Port of New York and New Jersey


Truckers and Shippers Look to FMC for Help

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has been receiving calls from both shippers and truckers alike asking them to block ocean carriers from charging detention and demurrage fees at the New York and New Jersey Ports due to their catastrophic-level backlog of empty containers that are obstructing the capacity to facilitate import containers.


The Bi-State Motor Carriers and the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), a New Jersey-based Association, requested the per diem waiver in two separate letters to the FMC.


The Bi-State’s letter to the FMC’s Chairman, Daniel Maffei, said that the group’s 170 members are heavily impacted by the substantial number of empty containers sitting and gathering dust as they wait to be returned. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the import loads being obstructed indefinitely, continuously incurring per-diem charges.


The letter pleads to the FMC to incentivize ocean carriers to vacate empty containers faster to allow more effortless trucking operations in the port.


“The lack of return locations for empty containers has reached crisis-level proportions,” the Bi-State letter said. “Marine terminals in [New York and New Jersey] do not have sufficient storage capacity to take back all of the empty containers because the ocean carriers are not loading back these boxes in sufficient quantities.”


The NITL also wrote a letter to the FMC arguing for the per diem waiver. In their letter the NITL says shippers are also bearing the cost of empty returns in the way of higher fees and delays in retrieving import boxes due to the extra handling of empties.


“This is adding enormous inefficiency and costs to the supply chain, and [beneficial cargo owners] are facing unreasonable chassis, storage, and detention fees,” the NITL said.


Terminal Appointments Add More Hurdles

The twin Ports of New York and New Jersey’s mandatory appointments for motor carriers returning empty containers is also adding yet another layer of frustration for truckers and shippers.


The port operators claim that their customers, the ocean carriers, are simply not removing the estimated 100,00 plus empty containers fast enough and as such, appointments are the only sensible method to allocate workers and space for the empty sweeps.


Due to the added workforce and expenses needed to secure and manage these port appointments, some motor carriers have started charging a fee to shippers who have empty containers destined for the terminals that require them. As of now, there are only two terminals requiring appointments for empty returns - Maersk subsidiary APM’s Elizabeth terminal and the Global Container Terminal Facility in Bayonne. APM requires appointments all day, while GCT’s system stops at 1pm, after which no appointment is necessary.


According to a Bi-State representative, with volumes at an all-time high, they are receiving many complaints from members who are struggling with securing appointments. A chief executive of a New Jersey based motor carrier said, “when the appointment windows open, they are gone within seconds. You used to have minutes to book appointments, now it’s down to seconds”.


Empties Keep Coming

As of May, the last month such statistics are available, the number of empties handled at the New York and New Jersey ports reached 300,330 TEUs, which is a five-year high and over one-third of the total volume for the month.


While these numbers show a real cause for concern, ocean carriers are still prioritizing import loads rather than handling the empty containers. Data from PANYNJ shows that five ad hoc ships called the port in May to sweep empties (in addition to those going out on regular weekly services), but eight other ad hoc ships called to drop off imports. The numbers tell the same story for June, when six empty sweepers called but eight ships dropped off.


Marine terminal executives said container lines are not picking up enough empties because their ships are too full of import loads for other ports in their route. The executive stated that there are simply not enough at any of the terminals to take in all the empties truckers are sitting on. “We are grounding empties behind a pile of imports we’re working, truckers are dropping empties in areas they haven’t been before.”


Final Thoughts

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