Federal Maritime Commission

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Federal Maritime Commission

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) regulates the waterborne foreign and domestic offshore commerce of the United States; ensures that U.S. international trade is open to all nations on fair and equitable terms; and protects against unauthorized activity in the waterborne commerce of the United States. The FMC reviews agreements made by groups of common carriers (those who operate ships for commercial purposes), ensures that carriers charge rates on file with the FMC, and guarantees equal treatment to carriers and those who ship their goods. The FMC also ensures that adequate levels of financial responsibility are maintained for the indemnification of passengers who sail on commercial passenger ships. The commission comprises a chairman and four commissioners, who are appointed by the president.

The FMC was established by Reorganization Plan No. 7 of 1961 (5 U.S.C.A. app.), effective August 12, 1961. It is an independent agency that regulates shipping under the following statutes: the Shipping Act of 1984 (46U.S.C.A. app. at 1701–1720); the Shipping Act, 1916; the Merchant Marine Act, 1920; the Foreign Shipping Practices Act of 1988 (46 U.S.C.A. app. at 1710a); the Intercoastal Shipping Act, 1933 (46 U.S.C.A. app. at 843 et seq.); and certain provisions of the Act of November 6, 1966 (46 U.S.C.A. app. at 817(d), 871(e)).

The commission reviews agreements made by common carriers, terminal operators (i.e., those who operate the docking facilities in harbors), and other persons subject to the shipping statutes. The FMC also monitors activities under all effective or approved agreements, for compliance with the provisions of the law and its rules, orders, and regulations.

The FMC accepts or rejects tariff filings, including filings dealing with service contracts, of common carriers engaged in foreign and domestic offshore commerce of the United States, or conferences of such carriers. The FMC regulates the rate of return of carriers in domestic offshore trades. It has the authority to grant exemptions from tariff requirements.

The commission issues licenses to persons, partnerships, corporations, and associations desiring to engage in ocean freight forwarding activities. Shipowners and the operators of passenger ships that carry more than fifty passengers are required to obtain certificates from the FMC that demonstrate that they have the financial resources and responsibility to pay judgments for personal injury or death, or to refund fares in the event that voyages are canceled.

When a violation of the shipping laws is alleged or suspected, the FMC is authorized to investigate and may take administrative action to start formal proceedings, to refer matters to other government agencies, or to bring about voluntary agreement between the parties. It also may conduct formal investigations and hearings on its own motion and may adjudicate formal complaints.

The FMC promulgates rules and regulations to interpret, enforce, and ensure compliance with shipping and related statutes by common carriers and other persons subject to those statutes.

The staff of the FMC administers programs to ensure compliance with the provisions of the shipping statutes. These programs include the submission of information, and field investigations and audits of activities and practices of common carriers, terminal operators, and others subject to the shipping statutes. The FMC also conducts rate analyses, studies, and economic reviews of current and future trade conditions, including the extent and nature of competition in various trade areas.

The FMC conducts investigations of practices by foreign governments and foreign carriers that adversely affect the U.S. shipping trade. The commission works with the department of state to eliminate discriminatory practices on the part of foreign governments against U.S.-flag shipping and to promote fairness between the United States and its trading partners.

The FMC has sought to become more efficient by implementing an electronic filing system. By 2002, it was able to issue service on companies electronically, which proved crucial during the fall of 2001, when the anthrax crisis prevented the delivery of mail by the U.S. Postal Service in some areas. In addition, it now posts filings of important public proceedings on its web site.

Further readings

Federal Maritime Commission. 2003. Annual Program Performance Report. Available online at <www.fmc.gov> (accessed November 12, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual> (accessed November 10, 1993).

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