The inability by ocean carriers to reposition refrigerated ocean containers for shippers of perishable goods is causing problems throughout the global cold chain and poses risks to perishable goods importers and exporters, including wine shippers.
U.S. exporters of chilled and frozen food are among the hardest hit. The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission is investigating reports that ocean carriers are returning empty reefer containers back to China, rather than supplying the empties to U.S. exporters for their outbound shipments. Because the ocean freight rates from Asia to the U.S. have spiked significantly, the carriers are accused of rushing empty reefer containers to Chinese shippers and bypassing customers in the U.S.
According to CNBC, the FMC is reviewing trade data at key ports in California, New York and New Jersey to see if the carriers’ actions are in violation of the Shipping Act, which makes it unlawful for carriers to “unreasonably refuse to deal or negotiate,” “boycott or take any other concerted action resulting in an unreasonable refusal to deal,” or “engage in conduct that unreasonably restricts the use of intermodal services.”