SHIP OFFICIALS WELCOME DELAY IN FMC AUTOMATION

SHIP OFFICIALS WELCOME DELAY IN FMC AUTOMATION

Even as they gear up for computerized tariff filing, maritime executives voiced relief in recent days that the Federal Maritime Commission likely will delay the start-up of its electronic system for storing and retrieving ocean freight rates.

"We'd like to get it on the road, but a little extra time is always helpful for big projects such as this," said Stan Levy, vice president of the Pacific Coast Tariff Bureau, San Francisco.Maritime industry efforts to begin implementation of electronic tariff filing are gathering momentum, despite carriers' doubts about the system the FMC is creating.

Tariffs are the fees charged by ship lines for moving goods. Their rules and rates must be filed with the FMC. The FMC is creating the Automated Tariff Filing Information system to handle this process.

Although they have left the possibility of legal challenges open, ocean carriers currently prefer to work with ATFI rather than fight it, executives said.

"We're just trying to see how the system works at this point," said John Lawrence, partner at Scher & Blackwell, general counsel for the Asia North America Eastbound Rate Agreement. That trans-Pacific ship line group has complained about certain aspects of the ATFI system.

The Pacific conferences are working toward a test later this month or in March that will run a major tariff database through ATFI, Mr. Lawrence said.

"We're working with the (FMC) staff to ensure it's filed properly and properly evaluated to see if there are any shortcomings or problems with the system, or to see if we have to do anything differently to deal with the ATFI system," Mr. Lawrence said.

The most important hurdle companies that file tariffs have had to jump is getting certification from the FMC that the information they transmit passes muster.

Tariff transmitters must qualify on seven different tariffs: rules, foreign commodities, essential terms, bills of lading, domestic commodities, equipment interchange agreements and terminals.

Certification is not a test of software capabilities nor a vote of approval by the FMC. It merely means that providers have transmitted the information the agency requires for its automated system.

At least two tariff publishers have completed the FMC's certification process for all variety of maritime tariffs. Several others plan to achieve that goal in the coming months.

D.X.I. Inc., Pittsburgh, and Transax Data, a Bridgewater, N.J.-based unit of The Journal of Commerce, are the two companies that have finished all stages of the FMC's certification process.

World Tariff Services, a Union, N.J.-based subsidiary of Rijnhaave Group, and the Pacific Coast Tariff Bureau have received certification for six out of seven tariff categories, executives from those companies said.

Zim Container Service, New York, has received certification on some tariffs, but company officials were not available to say which ones.

Port names and spellings were among the most frequent causes of difficulties in the tariff certification process, executives said. For U.S.-based ports, the FMC is following Federal Information Processing Standard 55, said Mr. Levy of the Pacific Coast Tariff Bureau.

Yet the FIPS 55 list by no means has answered all questions about port names, Mr. Levy said.

"We're not sure what qualifies a location as a port," he said.