Thursday, December 15, 2011

Judge Denies Motions to Dismiss Longview Trespassing Charges

A district court judge in Washington has rejected legal motions to dismiss criminal trespassing charges resulting from two protests in September at the Port of Longview’s EGT grain terminal.

On Dec. 12, Judge Ron Marshall issued a written ruling declaring that there’s enough evidence to move forward with trials the trials of 45 longshore workers and supporters for incidents that occurred when protesters blocked incoming trains during demonstrations on September 7th and September 21st.

Attorneys for union members had argued in Cowlitz County District Court during a November 30th hearing that the dockworkers’ actions were protected under the US constitutional amendment protecting the right to assemble and that the port didn’t clearly identify which areas were off-limits during the protests.

Judge Marshall was not convinced that the charges didn’t have merit, however, and decided a jury would best decide the matter. The defendants have all been charged with trespassing.

Almost two-dozen people were arrested on the misdemeanor charges during the Sept. 7 demonstration alone, which included a four-hour standoff where about 300 dockworkers and supporters stood on the railroad tracks below an overpass and blocked a mile-long train bound for the port’s EGT terminal.

In addition to the arrests, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was fined more than $300,000 by the federal government for blocking of trains and alleged property damage caused during the protests. The union is appealing the fines.

The protests were part of a long struggle between the terminal operator and union over labor issues. The union says its contract with the port requires that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal must go to unionized labor.

The company, however, says its lease agreement with the port does not require ILWU labor.

Hyundai Merchant Marine to Partner with LA Port on New Mega Terminal

California United Terminals has reached an agreement to help build and occupy Pier 500, a 200-acre terminal planned for the southeastern edge of the Port of Los Angeles. Hyundai Merchant Marine, which owns California United and imports and exports goods to and from South Korea, announced the deal Dec. 13 in conjunction with the City of Los Angeles after Hyundai officials met with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“Partnerships like this are what we need to support local businesses, create new jobs, and retain the Port of Los Angeles’ title as the nation's number one shipping container port,” Villaraigosa said. “I am proud of the fact that Hyundai Merchant Marine has confidence in our relationship and our port.”

Pier 500 would cost more than $1 billion to complete and consist of a peninsula atop material along the south side of Pier 400. It would include automated devices to handle containers, as well as an on-dock rail system for trains to be loaded.

Even with a contract in place, however, the Pier 500 project still has to undergo the lengthy permitting and environmental review processes. It’s expected to take up to 10 years before the project is built and operational.

Currently, California United subleases 98 acres from APM Terminals at Pier 400, which is on Terminal Island, the area that connects the LA and Long Beach harbors. Before that, Hyundai was a tenant at the Port of Long Beach, but left in the last year after failing to reach an agreement with another tenant, OOCL, regarding the sharing of the terminal that will result from the under-construction Middle Harbor project.

Port of LA Sees Record Growth in Export Volumes

For the second straight month, loaded exports have set a record at the Port of Los Angeles, according to figures released Dec. 15.

During November, 195,877 TEUs of loaded export containers moved through the port, an increase of 15 percent compared with the same month in 2010. During the first 11 months of 2011, exports have already surpassed 2010 volumes, which had been the previous record year for exports. The port says it’s on pace to export more than two million TEUs during the current calendar year.

Additionally, the number of loaded inbound containers moving through LA rose over six percent last month compared with the same period last year, to 354,313 from 333,710. Total container traffic during the month amounted to a 4.07 percent year-over-year rise, to 694,108 TEUs this November, from the 666,970 that were moved during the same month in 2010.

The news isn’t all great, however. During the first 11 months of the calendar year, TEU traffic rose at the Port of LA by just 71,791 containers from the year before – a total 0.99 percent, according to the port.

LA-Long Beach Ban of Pre-2007 Drayage Trucks Nears

As of Jan. 1, drayage trucks with engines that were built prior to 2007 will be barred from service that the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. The ban is one of the last steps in the ports’ Clean Trucks Program, which has progressively barred older, more polluting trucks over the past three years.

The first ban was enacted Oct. 1, 2008, barring trucks with 1988 or older engines. On Jan. 1, 2010, the ports banned 1993 and older trucks. The final ban is expected to take about 280 container trucks off port roads.

LA and Long Beach both estimate that 98 percent of trucked container moves at the port complex are currently performed by rigs with 2007 or newer engines.

As of the start of the 2012, all 11,000 drayage trucks servicing the two ports will be 2007 or newer models. Also, an additional 800 older non-container trucks will be purged from the ports’ drayage registries and barred from doing business at the ports, according to the Port of Long Beach.

“We helped replace more than 10,000 pollution spewing trucks with newer, less polluting ones and the bottom line is that our communities can breathe better,” Long Beach Harbor Commission President Susan E. Andersen Wise said in a statement. “Everyone at the port can be proud of this accomplishment and we are grateful to all our partners in the trucking industry and the environmental community who helped us get here.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best Practices: Diving and Salvage

Diving Risk Management and Technology
Working on around or under water is inherently risky, to the personnel performing the work as well as the environment, but with the proper preparation, the right equipment and an attention to safety, those risks can be minimized.

Avoiding Contaminant Risk
Though contaminated water diving is not new to commercial divers, it is probably reasonable to say there is increasing awareness of the potential risks it represents. While advancing technologies such as ROV’s have played a major role in reducing the risks to divers by decreasing the time of exposure to contaminates, many operations still require diving. Though diving continues to be dangerous, steps can be taken to reduce exposure risks to the diver.

In theory, it would be ideal to test the water before an operation and then tailor the equipment to the specific contaminants in the water. Besides the obvious impracticality of that endeavor, we are still faced with the inherent limitations of chemical testing.

Chemical testing of the personal protective equipment of the diver has always been done on new suits, at 1 atmospheric pressure and only one chemical at a time. It is reasonable to assume that the age and condition of the suits, the pressure at which the diver is working and/or the effects of multiple chemical contaminants will affect the drysuit’s resistance to contamination. And of course, the entire system is rarely tested. Quite often, the only information available to the diving supervisors is the resistance of the drysuit material to chemical permeation. Even then the tests are run on pristine (new) fabric.

It is important to note that no one system that can protect the diver from all types of contaminants. However, by always diving a completely encapsulated system, divers can minimize their exposure to contamination. It is critical to remember that the system is only as effective as its weakest link. For example, if the diver is wearing a drysuit yet wet gloves, the potential for exposure is high. The weak link can even be in the equipment itself, including the valves, zipper and breathing system. How can those be addressed?

Diving Unlimited International, Inc. (DUI) has developed a drysuit designed for contaminated water applications in which the company addresses some of these weaknesses. The CXO (Contaminated eXtreme Operations) drysuit is made with polyurethane material, double taped seams, polyurethane waterproof zipper, contaminated water valves and field replaceable gloves, seals and attached hood. DUI is also partnering with other companies to develop innovative technologies to mechanically attach full-face masks to the suit as well as easy-to-use decontamination products and procedures for easy on-site and definitive decontamination. Minimizing cross contamination after the dive operation can be just as critical as minimizing exposure during the dive.

Safer equipment cannot replace the training and education required to dive in hazardous environments. Common sense and knowledge are necessary to evaluate the mission requirements, the environmental conditions and various risk factors including contaminated water. Thorough training combined with a fully encapsulated system is the best way to minimize risks to commercial and public safety divers.

Oil and Wreck Containment and Removal
The removal from the Columbia River of the final section of a WWII Liberty Ship Davy Crockett marks the conclusion of a carefully engineered effort to prevent more than 32,000 gallons of bunker oil from escaping into the river from the various double-bottom tanks and other holds. The vessel was believed to have been weakened by scrapping activities that likely caused it to buckle and partially sink, releasing an estimated 70 gallons of oil.

The operation involved stabilizing the vessel and containment of the pollution threat. When local facilities were unavailable for deconstruction, a sheet pile cofferdam containment was erected, allowing the vessel to be deconstructed in the water. Internally it was lined with an impermeable silt barrier and additional sorbent materials to collect any oil that escaped during the response. The project obtained all necessary environmental permits. Throughout the project, water and sediment samples have been taken to monitor the site.

During the 211-day operation, under the direction of the United States Coast Guard and unified command consisting of both Washington and Oregon Department of Ecologies, crews from the prime contractor Ballard Diving & Salvage removed 4.45 million pounds of steel and another 824,822 pounds of debris, including wire, bricks and oiled sorbent materials and 1.6 million gallons of water contaminated with oil or other hazardous waste. All recovered materials were taken off-site for proper disposal.

While demolition has been completed, crews from Ballard Diving and Salvage will continue to collect steel chunks and operate the water filtration system inside the cofferdam. Sediment cleanup inside the cofferdam will follow before the sheet pile walls are removed.

Near record river levels, high river currents due to abnormally heavy spring runoff, heavy snow and often zero visibility all created a challenging environment for the many commercial divers involved in the operation, which is estimated to cost approximately $20 million. The response is funded by monies from the National Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Risk Management
Risk is commonly defined as exposing someone or something to danger, harm, or loss. Commercial diving is perceived to be an inherently risky profession; however, those knowledgeable within the marine industry know otherwise. The professionalism and competency of a qualified commercial diving contractor can be the difference on whether diving should be considered “risky”. The combination of safety measures created by governing agencies, internal company policies and safety programs, the development of state of the art diving equipment, and the many redundancies that have been developed elevate the standard for working underwater and further mitigate the risk factor.

The evolution of the safety standards over the last few decades has had a profound impact on the expectation of protection for all those working underwater. During operations, divers must carry a ‘bail-out’ air bottle, their umbilical cord enables physical retrieval, a separate standby air supply on the surface is kept in case of mechanical failure or contamination of a diver’s air supply – and these are just a few of the industry standard safety measures. Seattle’s Global Diving & Salvage furthers their commitment to safety through the company’s Health, Safety, Environmental, and Compliance Group, a four person team explicitly tasked with providing the company the guidance and support necessary to continually employ the safest working conditions possible.

Prior to any diving operation being undertaken a detailed Site-Specific Dive Plan is developed, which summarizes the tasks of the particular job. Tasks for a salvage job could include items such as preparing the vessel, including removing loose materials, contaminates and potential pollutants. Other tasks could include identifying how to stabilize the vessel, installing the lift bags or lifting slings and preparation of the lift. Also included in a Dive Plan are the important contact information for the specific job-site, location and directions to the closest hospital, contact information for local emergency agencies and the parties involved in the operation.

Another component in the Dive Plan is the relevant “Job Safety Analysis,” commonly referred to as the JSA, which identifies the potential exposure of specific tasks and micro-activities and outlines the appropriate preventative action. In a marine construction project, if a high-pressure water jet is being used to move material from the base of a pile or wall, a JSA would consequently identify safe operation of a high pressure pump. Global Diving has developed and continues to expand a library of hundreds of JSAs, covering topics such as high-pressure water blasting, suction dredging, and concrete removal operations.

Global has an established safety culture, and over the last thirty plus years has identified that the key to risk management and personnel exposure begins with proper planning.

Alternative Risk Management
Diving as a means of getting to work has always carried a higher level of risk than any other construction activity according to the various government agencies who track the statistics. A Coastguard document, recently acquired through the Freedom of Information act, indicates total commercial diver fatalities in America from 1990 to 2010 as 428. That’s an average of more than 20 per year.

One way to minimize physical risks in a diving operation is to remove as many of those risks as possible while maintaining the required operational capability. Depending on environmental factors such as depth, visibility, current and access to the work site, a method to minimize diving risk is to use Atmospheric Diving Suits (ADS) in place of traditional soft suit diving. The Hardsuit has been in operation commercially and with several Navies (primarily for submarine rescue) since its introduction in 1986 with NO fatalities or injuries.

Phoenix International Inc. operates Hardsuit atmospheric diving systems. Used mainly in the offshore oil fields they have also performed well in dams where the system eliminates the uncertainties of using dive tables at high altitudes while minimizing the dive spread footprint. With no need of chambers and compressors they can be trucked easily to remote sites.

A cast aluminum suit, adjustable for diver height, that maintains the diver at 1 atmosphere, the Hardsuit allows the diver to travel from the surface to -1200 feet, or anywhere in between, without any of the pressure related hazards faced by an air or mixed gas diver. A combination of thrusters mounted behind the arms, controlled by footpads in the boots, and a neutral tether allows the Hardsuit diver to travel easily in the water column or on bottom while patented joint technology ensures agility and flexibility unrivalled by any previous ADS system. Life support is carried onboard with sufficient redundancy to last for 48 hours with the tether only supplying power and communications. All life support functions in the suit have onboard battery backup, and an Orcatron through-water communication system ensures contact with the surface even in the unlikely event of a tether being severed.

Not only does the ADS eliminate decompression issues, bottom time restraints, ascent rates, pneumothorax, ear squeeze, sinus problems and other pressure related concerns, but it also insulates the diver from the environment. This eliminates or minimizes risks due to marine organisms, chemical and biological contamination, infections, heat, cold and cuts or abrasions.

The combination of reduced diver risk with Hardsuit system portability make this Atmospheric Diving System a viable tool for diving risk management.

High Current Environments
Throughout the summer of 2011 divers from Associated Underwater Services (AUS) assisted in the installation of a temporary cofferdam dam in the Snoqualmie River located in North Bend, Washington, just outside of Seattle. The project was performed for Barnard Construction of Bozeman, Montana who is the prime contractor for the rehabilitation of the 100 years old Snoqualmie Falls hydroelectric facility.

The cofferdam consisted of one-cubic-yard “super sack” bags which were place individually within 100 feet of the Snoqualmie Falls, a 270 foot waterfall on the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The proximity of the waterfall drop off, and the high and/or fluctuating current, necessitated numerous safety measures in addition to safety redundancies normally present in surface supplied diving operations.

In addition to the snap shackle that normally secures the diver’s umbilical to the diver’s harness, each diver used a man-rated carabineer from umbilical to harness. Depending on the river flow, one or two tenders per diver were used to tend the divers umbilical. Once several bags were in the river the bags themselves provided a “lee” from the current and the divers were able to secure themselves to the dam itself by holding onto the handles of the super sack bags.

Any personnel walking on the installed dam wore fall protection harness with retractable “yo-yo” safety lanyards. This included the all tenders and the diving supervisor inside the diver control station.

With the implementation of these additional safety procedures Barnard construction and AUS were able to install and remove more than 2,300 super sack bags during the summer season of 2011, despite challenging rivers conditions.

Occupy Movement Temporarily Curtails West Coast Port Traffic

The Occupy movement’s one-day action to disrupt the flow of container traffic at seaports on the West Coast of North America led to slowed, although not completely halted, cargo movement at multiple locations.

One of the most visibly affected was the Port of Oakland, North America’s third-largest seaport, where more than 1,000 marchers blocked multiple terminals at various points during the day, including two APL-run locations and a Hanjin terminal.

The Oakland protest even spilled over into the following day, as more than 100 Occupy demonstrators continued to march and attempt to block drayage truck drivers from entering and exiting terminals. No incidents of violence were reported.

Port operations in Oakland continued Tuesday “with minimal disruptions” due to still-ongoing protests, according to communications manager Robert Bernardo.

In Portland, the port shut down two terminals and police arrested two people who were found with a gun and sword.

After the early morning incident, terminals 5 and 6 were closed, and more than 300 workers were told not to report to work for the day.

Occupy Portland spokesperson Kari Koch said the two who were arrested were not part of the movement’s protest.

During the demonstration, terminals 4, 5 and 6 were targeted as part of a campaign against grain exporter EGT and SSA Marine, which is partially owned by Goldman Sachs, one of the Occupy movement’s targets.

At the Port of Seattle, 11 demonstrators were arrested on Harbor Island during a sometimes-violent mid-afternoon protest that included people throwing items at police and law enforcement pepper spraying unruly crowd members.

The total number of participants was estimated by local media at more than 500, many of whom demonstrated at terminals 5 and 18.

Although there were reports that the evening shifts at the two terminals were disrupted, the port said in a statement that the impact to cargo movement was “minimal.”

At the Port of Long Beach, heavy rain throughout the morning may have curtailed the number of demonstrators, as only an estimated 300 people showed up for a 6 am protest at Pier J, where they were met by a police blockade.

About an hour after gathering at a dock facility owned by SSA Marine, police ordered the protesters to disperse and began a long, slow process of marching in column formation toward the crowd in order to move it away from the terminal.

At least one arrest was made, but no violent incidents were reported. The protesters managed to block employee parking areas, but did not block trucks according to police. According to the port, all terminals remained open during the day and the protest had concluded by 10 am.

Occupy the Ports protests were also conducted at ports in Hueneme, California; Longview, Washington; Anchorage, Alaska; and San Diego, among other places.

US, Canada Seal Border Trade Agreement

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama have signed a series of new trade agreements – collectively called the Beyond the Border plan – that are intended to expedite the inspection and clearance of cargo arriving via ship, truck or train.

“These agreements represent the most significant step forward in Canada-US cooperation since the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Prime Minister Harper said in a statement upon the Dec. 7 announcement of the deal.

The plan allows for the two countries to more closely complement customs and security operations along the US-Canada border to expedite the crossing of goods. It reduces redundant checks performed by both customs agencies at the border and expands programs that accelerate border crossing for trusted traders and their cargo.

One of the key elements of the Beyond the Border plan is implementation of new pre-clearance policies for goods being imported from abroad to the US or Canada, meaning that goods being imported at designated ports will be cleared for customs there and won’t have to go through a second clearing at a land crossing.

The plan also includes creation of a system to electronically submit required cargo documentation to both countries; increased transparency in border fees and tariffs; and the establishment of a new strategy to expedite truck traffic between the two countries by 2014.

Under the Integrated Cargo Security Strategy, all cargo to be transported by truck would be inspected at the port where it enters the US or Canada and wouldn’t have to be checked a second time when crossing the Canada-US border.

In a statement, the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents about 4,500 drivers, hailed the agreement as an “historic achievement that takes meaningful steps to bring the Canada-US border into the 21st century.”

Port of Long Beach Releases Grain Export Study

The Port of Long Beach on Dec. 9 released a draft environmental impact report on a proposal to build a grain export facility at Terminal Island’s Pier T.

The proposed Total Terminals International facility would transfer grain from railcars into ocean shipping containers and export from 750,000 to 1.5 million tons of grain per year utilizing existing rail and container shipping facilities.

The proposal includes installation of a grain transloading facility on a vacant 10-acre parcel on Pier T adjacent to the existing 385-acre TTI container terminal. The proposed project would be located on the former Navy Mole, a 2-mile-long, 500-foot-wide peninsula that wraps around Long Beach Harbor’s west basin.

Existing rail lines follow the southern edge of the site and connect to other rail lines including the BNSF and the Union Pacific networks.

TTI says the project would enable the transfer of a high quality feed for cattle utilizing the existing rail and shipping infrastructure. Under the proposal, the same frequency of shipping vessels would occur, but the containers would instead transport grain to China.

Shipping vessels currently transport empty containers from Pier T.

Construction of the facility would last about 14 months, from June 2012 through July 2013.

The port hosts a public hearing to solicit comments on the document at 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at Long Beach City Hall Council Chambers, and written comments are being accepted by the port through Jan. 23. The draft document is available at

Turnover Rate for Truckload Drivers Again Rises

The turnover rate for truckload drivers at large fleets rose to 89 percent in the third quarter of 2011, the fourth consecutive quarterly increase, according to the American Trucking Associations.

The third quarter increase follows a previously reported turnover rate of 79 percent in the second quarter of the year and sets the benchmark as the highest level since the first quarter of 2008.

The ATA says large fleet truckload turnover rate is an indication of increased demand and competition for drivers.

“Due to the economic recovery, as well as regulatory factors… we are seeing the market for good, quality drivers tighten,” ATA chief economist Bob Costello said.

“As our tonnage index has shown recently, demand for freight continues to rise, so we expect the need for quality drivers to become more acute going forward,” he said. “Particularly if regulations either force current drivers out of the industry or force fleets to put more trucks on the road.”

Since bottoming out in the first quarter of 2010, the turnover rate has risen 50 percentage points and has averaged 81 percent so far this year.