On Tuesday, November 3, 2015, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) issued a Final Rule in FMC Docket 13-05, amending regulations at 46 C.F.R. Part 515 that govern Ocean Transportation Intermediaries (OTIs), including ocean freight forwarders and non-vessel-operating common carriers (NVOCCs). The Final Rule was published today in the Federal Register (80 Fed. Reg. 68,722 (Federal Maritime Commission, Nov. 5, 2015)). The Final Rule follows from the Commission's vote last month in favor of the amended regulations. The Rule will become effective December 9 of this year, with the exception of certain license renewal provisions that will not go into effect until December 9, 2016.

The most paradigm-shifting change is the introduction of licensure renewal requirements. While the FMC grants currently OTIs licenses without an expiration date, under the new rules at § 515.14(c) the Commission will grant new OTIs licenses that expire three years after issuance. OTIs will have to renew their licenses after every three-year period by applying online no later than 60 days prior to the renewal date of the license. License applications and renewal forms must be submitted through the electronic online portal on the FMC website. There will be no fee for the renewal process.

Existing OTI license holders will have their current licenses phased out over the next three years, and likewise will need to apply online to renew their licenses. The Commission expects to issue a notice on its website of the schedule by which currently licensed OTIs will need to complete the renewal process. For new and existing OTI license holders alike, these new renewal requirements are not effective until December 9, 2016, one year following the effective date of the final rule.

In addition to the license renewal requirements, the Final Rule amends, adds and deletes a number of other provisions in the OTI regulations. A chart summarizing some of the key regulatory changes, and their practical significance for OTIs, is below:

Click here to view table.

The approval of the amended regulations by the Commission last month, and the issuance of the Final Rule this week, finalizes a rulemaking process that has been ongoing for a number of years. On May 31, 2013, as Venable noted at the time, the FMC published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding OTIs in the Federal Register (78 Fed. Reg. 32,946 (Federal Maritime Commission May 31, 2013)), and engaged in a notice-and-comment period. The FMC subsequently included the changes in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in October of 2014.