Richard Lidinsky, ex-FMC chair and champion of shippers, dead at 76

Richard Lidinsky, ex-FMC chair and champion of shippers, dead at 76

Richard Lidinsky, a Baltimore native (port pictured), urged US ports to expand and improve productivity to stay competitive with their Canadian counterparts. Photo credit: WWK Photography/Shutterstock.com.

Richard Lidinsky, the firebrand former chairman of the US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) who helped push the drifting agency out of the doldrums and championed the plight of shippers, died Nov. 17. He was 76.

In his oft-controversial seven-year tenure at the FMC, Lidinsky was unafraid to buck the commission consensus. In 2014, he was the lone dissenter in voting against allowing the three largest global container lines to create a shipping alliance, arguing that the tie-up of Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co., and CMA CGM would consolidate too much power under one alliance. Chinese authorities thought similarly and rejected the P3 Network. The demise of P3 led to new alliances that Lidinsky considered better regulated and balanced.

FMC Chairman Richard Lidinsky

The Baltimore native in 2008 led the FMC to seek its first, only, and ultimately unsuccessful federal injunction when it challenged what it considered an anticompetitive component within the clean-truck program at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex.

“My message was: ‘This is not the federal carrier commission. Our mission is to protect the American people, not give antitrust immunity to foreign carriers,’” Lidinsky told JOC.com in 2016. “Most US corporations would give their right arm for the level of antitrust immunity the carriers enjoy.”

Lidinsky’s legacy has left the FMC, long perceived as institutionally partial to ocean carriers, more active and open to shippers — even if his prodding has failed to trigger a review of carriers’ demurrage and detention charges that he had championed. In his wake and under the helm of current FMC Chairman Daniel Maffei, the agency has implemented detention and demurrage rulemaking and launched investigations of alleged unfair storage fee billing.

“He was always looking out for the little guy and demanded inclusion of American shippers and (beneficial cargo owners) in every discussion,” William Doyle, a former commissioner and now head of the Port of Baltimore, told JOC.com Monday.

Pushed to get FMC active again

When he became chairman in September 2009, Lidinsky’s marching orders from the Obama administration were clear: Get the agency active again, push an environmental emphasis, and renew the focus on shippers. Lidinsky, who first served at the FMC in the 1970s as a staffer under then-chair Helen Delich Bentley, noted the agency had been without a chairperson for more than two years and had been caught up in a bureaucratic bind. He likened the agency’s structure as Rube Goldberg-esque, in which senior executives oversaw each other’s personnel but didn’t report to the chair.

His approach ruffled feathers and put a target on his back. The House Oversight and Government Reform Commission in the spring of 2012 launched an investigation into whether Lidinsky violated employees’ privacy and misused taxpayer dollars, an allegation tied to his use of a private car. The results of the investigation were never made public and Lidinsky stridently denied the accusations.

Lidinsky was one of the first commissioners, if not the first, to understand the rising competitiveness of Canadian ports. A study of diversions of US-bound cargo through Canadian and Mexican ports that he pushed for while chairman, for example, showed how US ports were losing cargo as well as revenue from the Harbor Maintenance Tax, the 0.0125 percent levy on the value of US imports.

Commissioners Michael Khouri and Rebecca Dye rebuked the initial report issued in 2012, arguing its methodology was flawed and that the conclusions were underdeveloped. The rise of US-bound cargo through Canadian ports, most noticeable through the Port of Prince Rupert, is clear in the fourth and latest iteration of the report.

He long favored a rewrite of the Shipping Act of 1984, arguing that the onus should be on carriers to prove that alliances wouldn’t cause unreasonable decreases in services and unreasonable increases in cost. Lidinsky also believed that shippers were afraid of retribution from ocean carriers if they complained to the FMC, a claim the World Shipping Council, which represents carriers, has vehemently denied.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA-22), the first major revamp of US shipping law in two decades, included tougher antiretaliation measures and charged the FMC with doing more to curb unfair detention and demurrage. Lidinsky followed the road to OSRA-22 closely, meeting semi-regularly with his friend and protégé Doyle, sharing his thoughts on major shipping events over lunches. Lidinsky would spend part of his retirement as the trustee of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reviewing the divestment of the then-OOCL-operated Long Beach Container Terminal after Cosco Holdings acquired the Hong Kong-based carrier in 2018. Indeed, relentless to the end.

Contact Mark Szakonyi at mark.szakonyi@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc.