Importers liable for container delays under proposed maritime law
The National Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association of America is protesting passage by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of a provision in a wide-ranging maritime security bill that would penalize importers for not moving cargo from sea terminals in a timely manner.
However, a letter from the group to the bill's sponsors — Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.; Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C.; and John Breaux, D-La. — came two weeks after the committee adopted the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2004 by voice vote April 8.
The bill gives the Department of Homeland Security — and by extension the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection — the authority to move containers left on the dock more than five days to a general order warehouse and issue administrative penalties of $5,000 for each bill of lading associated with shipments in the container.
The proposed rule “creates an inconsistent clash with existing customs law and existing security measures, resulting in an untenable ‘Catch-22’ scenario for importers and customs brokers,” NCBFAA President Federico Zuniga wrote. Brokers are sometimes penalized now for too quickly facilitating the movement of cargo to inland destinations in cases in which a truck driver was not aware Customs had slapped a hold on a shipment for closer inspection.
The trade group said it is unfair to penalize industry when Customs is slow to release goods. “Neither the customs broker, nor the importer, nor the steamship line is authorized under existing law to transport the container until entry and release occurs and a permit for its delivery is granted,” the NCBFAA said.
The association said the proposed rule is unnecessary because importers already have an incentive to avoid demurrage charges that vessel operators often start to calculate if a container has not been moved within two days of unloading from a ship.
The bill must still be enacted by the full Senate.