Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (VOCC) Audit Program
The Vessel-Operating Common Carrier Audit Program was established in July 2021. The initial scope of the program was intended to analyze the top nine carriers by market share for compliance with the Commission rule interpreting 46 USC 41102(c) as it applies to detention and demurrage practices in the United States. Other areas of the audit include practices related to billing, appeals procedures, penalties, and other practices.
The audit program includes collection of qualitative and quantitative data related to carrier detention and demurrage as well as regular meetings with representatives from the carriers.
The initial information collected on carrier approaches to conveying information on their detention and demurrage policies with the shipping public led to FMC identifying best practices in this area. These best practices were shared with a broader set of carriers and outreach has resulted in many carriers adopting these best practices. Best practices are separated into the areas of (1) accessibility of detention and demurrage information, (2) detention and demurrage dispute resolution policies and practices, and (3) invoices and notification of cargo availability. Each area is briefly discussed below.
Accessibility of terms, conditions, and rate information
- Definitions and charges for detention and demurrage should be easily found on a carrier’s website in an accessible format that is straightforward to navigate.
- Detention and demurrage tariff rates should be publicly available and not require customer log in.
Detention and Demurrage dispute resolution
Carriers should have a clearly defined dispute resolution policy that is accessible on their websites and include information listed in (a)-(c):
- A dispute resolution timeframe to resolve disputes in as little time as possible, ideally 30 days or less.
- A statement of what information should be included in a dispute.
- A clearly delineated contact person/email/system to submit disputes.
Invoices and cargo notifications
Cargo invoices and notifications on the availability of cargo should be clear and include all necessary information. The date of cargo availability should not be the date of vessel arrival unless the cargo is actually available on that date. Providing information to contact the terminal for availability information alone does not satisfy this best practice. Some useful items to incorporate are listed in (a)-(d).
- Smart use of space and color on invoices to draw attention to important information and demarcate sections.
- Contact information for invoice questions or disputes.
- Regular notices to customers on cargo availability which contain information on remaining free time and warning about demurrage.
- Availability of automated notification systems for customers, and the ability for customers to set preferences for notifications.
Updates on the audit program were presented at the May 2022 and January 2022 Commission meetings.