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Becoming an Ocean Transportation Intermediary

An Ocean Transportation Intermediary is either an ocean freight forwarder or a non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC).   An ocean freight forwarder is an individual or company that dispatches shipments from the United States via common carriers and books or otherwise arranges space for those shipments on behalf of shippers. Ocean freight forwarders also prepare and process the documentation and perform related activities pertaining to those shipments. An NVOCC is a common carrier that holds itself out to the public to provide ocean transportation, issues its own house bills of lading or equivalent document, but does not operate the vessels by which ocean transportation is provided, and is a shipper in relation to the involved ocean common carrier.

Ocean freight forwarders are required to obtain a license to provide services in the United States. U.S.-based NVOCCs are also required to be licensed. NVOCCs that are not based in the U.S. are not required to be licensed, but may choose to obtain one if desired, as licensing results in lower financial responsibility levels.

To obtain a license, an OTI must submit Form FMC-18 and a fee in the amount of $825. Form FMC-18 is available on the Commission's website. The applicant must appoint a qualifying individual with at least three years of demonstrable OTI experience and who is an officer of the applicant's corporation, is the sole proprietor or who is a partner in a partnership. Proof of this position must be submitted. For U.S.-based OTIs the qualifying individual's experience must have been gained in the United States.For non-U.S.-based NVOCC license applicants, the qualifying individual may have gained experience outside the U.S. Applications are filed for changes such as change in qualifying individual, name, address, business structure change, additions or removals of trade names, or other changes of information reported on the original Form FMC-18. For changes in qualifying individual or changes that result in the issuance of an amended license, the fee is $525.

Once an application is submitted, FMC staff will review the application, documents, contact references and investigate the applicant. Should the application be approved, the applicant will be notified of the approval and will be required to submit proof of financial responsibility (most likely a surety bond), in the amount of $50,000 (for an ocean freight forwarder license) or $75,000 (for NVOCC license). For each unincorporated branch office in the United States performing OTI services, the OTI is required to increase its bond by $10,000 and to report the addresses of those offices. Once a license has been issued to an NVOCC, it must file Form FMC-1 which notifies the Commission of the location of the NVOCC's electronically available tariff. It must then ensure the tariff is published.

Non-U.S.-based NVOCCs that do not wish to be licensed must provide the Commission with proof of financial responsibility in the amount of $150,000, file Form FMC-1, and ensure a tariff is published at the site listed on the Form FMC-1. A non-U.S.-based NVOCC must list in its tariff an agent for service of process in the United States, and it must use a licensed OTI for any OTI services performed on its behalf in the United States.

Non-U.S.-based NVOCCs that choose to be licensed must submit Form FMC-18, together with the required documentation and the fee.In addition it must establish a presence in the United States such as an unincorporated branch office.The qualifying individual may obtain his experience outside the U.S.The amount of financial responsibility is $75,000 plus $10,000 for each unincorporated branch office in the United States other than the one used to establish a presence.A Form FMC-1 must be filed and a tariff published.

An OTI NVOCC may be a shipper signatory to service contracts with vessel-operating common carriers. The shipper party will need to certify on the signature page its shipper status. The vessel-operating common carrier is required to obtain proof that the NVOCC is appropriately licensed for U.S.-based NVOCCs, bonded, and has published a tariff.

At the Commission, the Bureau of Certification and Licensing handles all OTI applications and OTI bonds and bond riders submitted as proof of financial responsibility. The Bureau of Trade Analysis handles all tariff and service contract-related matters.

More information on OTIs may be obtained at the following links:

OTI Rules:  46 CFR Part 51546 CFR Part 52046 CFR Part 530