Behind schedule

Behind schedule

When the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection required advance filing of ocean manifests, delays resulted in the inland movement of shipments from U.S. ports. Although the problems eventually waned, the industry has been waiting for a technological fix that will prevent a recurrence.

Now carriers and consolidators will have to wait a little longer.

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection will not meet its Oct. 1 schedule for completing the revision of its Automated Manifest System filing procedures for in-transit shipments. Implementation of Customs' "special bill" for the hand-off of documentation between cargo consolidators and ocean carriers now won't happen until Dec. 6.

Customs had hoped it could complete its programming efforts by Oct. 1, but the agency got caught up in an inter-agency security initiative to establish a unified government anti-terrorism effort at the border. "Customs has been trying really hard. It's just a question of resources," said Carol Fuchs, government relations counsel to the Washington law firm Katten Muchin Zavis.

Revision of Customs' AMS filing procedures is designed to clear up an unintended consequence of a national security initiative known as the 24-hour advance manifest-filing requirement. The rule requires ocean carriers to electronically file their vessel manifests to Customs 24 hours before U.S.-bound cargo is loaded aboard ships in foreign ports. Customs uses the manifest information to target and inspect risky shipments.

The problem with the 24-hour rule involved the handling of shipments booked by cargo consolidators, or non-vessel-operating common carriers. In Customs' computer system, AMS is programmed to require that the party pre-filing the cargo information in the foreign country also file the inland transit data when the shipment reaches the U.S. port. If an NVO files its house bill of lading in an overseas port, the NVO also must file the inland transit documentation when the container arrives at the U.S. port or AMS will reject it.

When the advance manifest-filing requirement took effect in early February, terminal operators at U.S. ports began to hold up some containers booked by NVOs because the terminals did not have the documentation required for the inland or in-transit move. Containers were stuck in storage yards at ports instead of being loaded on railcars for shipment inland.

Although few problems have been reported in recent weeks, delays were widespread during the first weeks after the 24-hour rule took effect. "There's been some pain out there," said Fuchs, who been working on a solution with Customs through the Customs Commercial Operations Advisory Committee.

Customs initially viewed the problem as a commercial disagreement between ocean carriers and NVOs and told the two parties to work out their differences. The agency soon realized, though, that the hand-off of documentation between the consolidator and the ocean carrier could be seamless if Customs reprogrammed AMS to remove the blockage that occurred between the NVO's house bill of lading and the carrier's master bill of lading.

Under Customs' plan, the NVO house bill will be closed out when the shipment reaches the U.S. port, and the entire file will revert to the ocean carrier's master bill of lading, said David Street, who serves as counsel to the International Association of NVOCCs. When that happens, he said, "Transportation will be seamless again."