Ocean Carrier Giants Invoke ‘Force Majeure’ Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse

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In the wake of the deadly Francis Scott Key bridge collapse in Baltimore, container shipping giants are wasting no time in forcing shippers to foot the bill for products that will no longer be dropped off at the Maryland city’s port.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd and Cosco Shipping are among the ocean carriers that have declared “force majeure,” a clause that frees the liners from fulfilling contract obligations due to events entirely out of their control.

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In this case, once the diverted cargo is dropped off at an alternative port, the carrier no longer has to assist with the movement of goods, leaving them off the hook for storage and transportation costs. This means importers become fully responsible for finding transportation to move the cargo to its final destination before container late fees are charged.
While the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) enacted select rule changes in the post-Covid era in responses to accusations from shippers that ocean carriers were excessively charging demurrage and detention fees-resulting in a series of fines imposed on the ocean carriers- force majeure-related fees are unlikely to get the same treatment from the agency.

According to Andrew Lazaroff, senior vice president of sales at New Jersey-based freight forwarder Worldwide Logistics Group, the force majeure provision traditionally isn’t something that carriers are willing to waive in times of crisis.

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