Hamburg Süd would be paid about $1,800 to ship each 40-foot container, which held most of the furniture and household goods that OJ Commerce would sell under its own brands. The carrier delivered only 185. That forced OJ Commerce to pay vastly inflated prices to lock up last-minute bookings for its additional containers.
The complaint claims that Hamburg Süd denied OJ Commerce’s containers so it could cash in on soaring shipping rates, selling the same space to other importers for 10 times the contracted price.
OJ Commerce says its conflict with Hamburg Süd decimated its fastest-growing division, which makes products at factories in Asia and ships them to the United States for sale.
According to the complaint, Hamburg Süd’s sales staff had devoted months to negotiating a new contract that would have started in June 2021, guaranteeing OJ Commerce passage for more than 4,000 containers from Asia to the United States over the subsequent year. Then the carrier revoked its offer and ceased negotiations.
“We should not engage in any renewal discussion with customer in light of potential litigation,” Juergen Pump, a senior vice president at Hamburg Süd North America, wrote in an internal email that OJ Commerce obtained and filed as part of its case at the maritime commission. “I would also not provide them with space under the existing contract.”
In an interview, Mr. Maffei, the regulator, declined to discuss the specifics of OJ Commerce’s litigation but said: “The clear intent of Congress, and my intent as well, is to come down as hard as possible on any kind of retaliation. It undermines the entire system of enforcement.”
In documents filed in the commission proceeding, OJ Commerce referred to an internal email dated April 29, 2021, from Kevin Li, a cargo flow specialist in Hamburg Süd’s sales department, to Mr. Pump, who then oversaw the company’s North American division.