Friday, February 24, 2012

LA Port, Trucking Company Settle Dispute

Swift Transportation Co. has agreed to pay the Port of Los Angeles $4 million to settle a dispute over a nearly $12 million grant the trucking company received to buy hundreds of new drayage trucks.

Swift had received $11.8 million from the Port of LA’s truck replacement program to buy 591 new trucks, with the port doling out $20,000 per truck. One of the conditions of the grant however, was that the trucks had to make at least 300 trips to the port per year for five years.

Even though the number of annual trips was eventually downgraded last year to 150 from 300, Swift still had well over 400 trucks that didn’t meet the criteria.

The grants, however, included a clause requiring a payback to the port for any truck not making the required number of trips.

On Feb. 16, the port’s harbor board officially approved a settlement with Swift, which requires the trucking company to pay back $4 million of the $11.8 it received under the grant program.

The truck replacement program is part of the port’s initiatives to reduce waterfront air pollution. Under it, trucking companies can receive money for new, cleaner trucks if they agree to turn in older, dirtier trucks to be destroyed. The older trucks are required to have been in drayage service at the port for a minimum of two years prior to trade in.

Although Swift has to this point received the largest share of replacement program funding, it’s not the only company that’s faced the issue of not using the new trucks for their intended purpose.

In 2010, the port revealed that only 30 percent of the 2,000 trucks bought by trucking concessionaires with port money had made the required 300 trips per year, at the time, and that about 400 trucks bought through the port’s grant program had yet to make a single trip to the port.

Anchorage Mayor Says Port Expansion Back on Track

A Port of Anchorage expansion project that’s been beset with funding, design and construction problems for years is now back on track, according to the city’s mayor.

“Shortly before I took office in July 2009, it was reported that there may be significant construction problems with the expansion project,” Mayor Dan Sullivan said. “For the last two-and-a-half years, my administration has worked diligently to first determine the extent of the problem and chart a path forward.”

Difficulties with the expansion have included the August 2011 death of a bulldozer operator who drowned when his machine accidentally slid into gravel fill; the discovery in 2009 that steel sheets used to form a new dock face bent and separated during installation; and cost overruns.

The project’s now estimated to cost about $1 billion to finish, triple the original 2005 projection.

But Sullivan says some solutions to issues have been found, including:
  • The full-time assignment of a Maritime Administration representative to the project, to allow better direct oversight and communication with federal agencies.
  • Formation of a project oversight committee, consisting of officials from MARAD, the city and the port. The committee, which will meet weekly, is tasked with approving work schedules and budgets, setting benchmarks, and approving changes.
  • Formation of a technical committee to review project documents and make recommendations to the project oversight committee.
  • Creation of a quality control and quality assurance program to ensure the work is done correctly.
  • A review of the expansion’s design, and of the construction to date, by the Army Corp of Engineers.
“With the project back on track, the only remaining component is funding,” Sullivan said, noting that Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell included $200 million for the port in his recently proposed state budget.

“I will be working with our Legislature to provide any additional information they may need to support the governor’s proposal, and give this critical project the fiscal certainty it needs going forward,” Sullivan said.

Port Metro Vancouver Annual Volume Rises Over 3 Percent

Port Metro Vancouver, Canada’s largest seaport, handled 122.5 million tons of cargo, a 3.4 per cent increase over the 118.4 million tons moved in 2010, according to its year-end statistics report.

The increase was despite a 22 percent decrease and four percent drop, respectively, in amounts auto and break bulk tonnage moved. The declines were countered by increases of five percent and four percent, respectively, in the amount of bulk and containerized cargo that moved through the port during the year.

Total domestic tonnage for the year rose seven percent to 26.9 million tons and total foreign tonnage saw a 2.5 percent increase to 95.6 million tons, according to the report, which was released earlier this month.

The port saw particular growth in laden export containers, which it cited as a key indicator of cargo demand by Asian economies.

“Port Metro Vancouver’s strong growth in moving exports to priority markets in the Asian-Pacific region demonstrates clearly how the federal government’s strategic investments and partnerships in building the Asia-Pacific Gateway continue to help strengthen our economy,” Canada’s Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Ed Fast, said.

Canada’s natural resources volumes also showed strong growth last year, with new records set in coal, potash and forest products exports.

Port Metro Vancouver’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Robin Silvester, said the increased volume numbers were an indication of the continued resiliency in the Canadian export market.

“As international economies continue to face many difficult challenges, Canada’s natural resources sectors stand as a cornerstone of the Canadian economy,” he said. “Our natural geographical advantage as the closest major Gateway to Asia Pacific economies presents continuing opportunities for growth in the coming years.”

Port of Tacoma Monthly Shipping Volume Grows

A 12 percent increase in full containerized imports helped fuel a four percent overall rise in container volumes in January at the Port of Tacoma, according to newly-released data.

A total of 39,386 full inbound containers from outside the US came through the port last month, a leap of 12.4 percent over January 2011. The number of full outbound containers also rose, reaching 27,714, a four percent increase from the year prior.

The port is partially crediting the increased import volumes to growth in various commodities, such as industrial equipment, toys and electronics.

Additionally, the total volume of international full containers at the port rose 8.8 percent last month, and the number of international empties handled rose 5.3 percent.

Not all the news was good, however. Domestic containerized volumes from Alaska and Hawaii dropped five percent in January, falling from 33,387 to 31,732. This was the one significant decline for the month however, as most categories saw increases compared with the same month in 2011.

Other year-over-year Tacoma cargo jumps included break bulk volumes, which climbed 66 percent; log exports, which rose 60 percent; and total tonnage, which reached 1.3 million tons, an eight percent increase.

Overall for the month, the port’s total numbers TEUs rose from 105,289 in January 2011 to 109,597 last month, a 4.1 percent increase. Tacoma’s total containerized cargo volume rose to 745,458 in January, a 4.8 percent elevation from the same month last year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seafarers Must be Protected from Saboteurs

By Gavin Carter

Groups opposed to economic activity and development try to limit the extraction and use of natural resources in a wide variety of ways. With so many resources found in and under the oceans, it is not surprising that the marine ecosystem has become a key strategic battlefield.

Most of the battles take place peaceably in the corridors of power, with environmentalists advocating for new economic restrictions such as marine protected areas, more complex regulatory mechanisms and trade controls.

But it is “direct action” on the high seas that increasingly is raising concerns. Cargo ships, fishing vessels and even oilrigs have been illegally boarded. Fishermen have been attacked and had their catches sabotaged.

In the wake of these developments, the system of international conventions that promotes safety at sea is suddenly looking vulnerable, if not impotent. Faced by the challenge of growing lawlessness on the High Seas, some of history’s greatest advocates for higher maritime standards have balked.

The most notorious of the “direct action” groups is Sea Shepherd, which sabotages fisheries, sealing and whaling operations. Sea Shepherd makes clear that it is not a protest organization. Anyone doubting its ability to sabotage fisheries and hunting can view its own video of the attacks on YouTube or watch the TV show Whale Wars.

Sea Shepherd rationalizes that any activity it disapproves of is illegal and therefore a legitimate target. In addition to having sunk whaling boats in port in Spain, Iceland and Norway, Sea Shepherd vessels deliberately ram ships at sea. The organization’s crews regularly fire glass projectiles from homemade mortar devices, destroy fishing nets or try to disable the propellers of vessels by dragging ropes and cables.

There is no doubt that someone perpetrating similar attacks on land would be immediately apprehended by law enforcement authorities. So, to try to evade national jurisdictions, this US-based group attacks foreign ships on the high seas with multinational crews. And it uses Dutch and Australian flagged vessels that are purportedly owned by a United Kingdom subsidiary.

Sea Shepherd has circumvented International Maritime Organization (IMO) safety conventions by self-designating its ships as yachts. In May 2010, the IMO responded with a Resolution urging flag states to ensure that all vessels in such confrontations comply with its regulations.

Flag and port states are free to inspect vessels and determine whether such a designation is appropriate. The authorities in Cape Town detained one Sea Shepherd vessel for failure to comply with IMO requirements and Canada later denied the same vessel entry into its territorial waters for the same reason. But if flag and port states choose to turn a blind eye, the IMO provides the ultimate victims with little recourse.

The most basic requirement for ensuring safety at sea is for crews to be properly qualified. Sea Shepherd should be complying with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). But the Netherlands, as flag state of the larger attack vessels, continues to fail to apply this convention to Sea Shepherd.

Instead, Sea Shepherd requires crewmembers to sign a personal indemnity that releases the organization of any responsibility in the event of injury or death. Armed with this legal defense, the group’s leader, meanwhile, glibly vows that, “we will undertake whatever risks to our lives will be required.” One can only wonder how flag states and the IMO would respond if regular commercial vessels chose to skirt the STCW in the same way.

Unqualified crews put other vessels and themselves in danger, as was evidenced in 2010 when a Sea Shepherd trimaran (itself hardly fit for a hounding role in the Antarctic) collided with its intended target and later sank. In its accident report, Maritime New Zealand noted that the Sea Shepherd crew “were all volunteers and did not hold maritime documents or have significant seagoing experience.” Fortunately no one died.

Australia, meanwhile, allows Sea Shepherd to use its ports as bases from which to launch the attacks. This is prohibited by the SUA Convention (Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation) but, astonishingly, each year Australian officials fail to take any action against Sea Shepherd’s blatant preparations to attack the whaling vessels. Australia is also the flag state of the replacement trimaran, Brigitte Bardot, whose unqualified crew was placed in considerable danger just before Christmas when she was damaged by what Sea Shepherd described as a “rogue” wave. The craft was escorted to Australia by the unqualified crew of another Sea Shepherd vessel. Again, it is fortunate that no one died.

Behind all this is the fact that the Netherlands and Australia strongly oppose whaling today, although both are former whaling nations. Australia has even taken the unusual step of taking Japan to the International Court of Justice in an attempt to stop research whaling in the Antarctic. But opposition to an activity on ethical grounds (the whale populations are abundant and the catches are small and sustainable) hardly seems sufficient to suspend the rule of law on the High Seas.

Simply put, by not applying the IMO conventions, the Netherlands and Australia are facilitating Sea Shepherd’s violent attacks. Damage to vessels already has been incurred, seafarers’ lives have been put at risk and some crewmembers have been injured.

With these nations continuing to avoid their international obligations and responsibilities, Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) and Kyodo Senpaku filed a complaint against Sea Shepherd in December 2011 with the US district court in Seattle. Years of patient bilateral diplomacy had yielded no results and the organizations felt they had few other options to ensure the safety of their vessels and crews.

This landmark action has implications for seafarers everywhere because it aims to establish clear legal boundaries, based on safety concerns, on what type of “direct action” is (and is not) permissible at sea. And it is surely a far more preferable route to resolution than having fishermen arm their vessels with heavy weaponry.

Nevertheless, the need for legal action is disappointing because it highlights the inadequacies of our international maritime governance system. Nations can ward off Somali pirates with naval vessels but are unwilling to deal with the seemingly more straightforward problem of unlawful “direct action”. Militant vegetarianism doesn’t ignite the same level of urgency and, for some, it may even appeal to a sense of romanticism. But this culture-based lawlessness – which troublingly also brings in millions of dollars in donations for Sea Shepherd – carries with it a range of threats to individuals, vessels and commerce.

For whatever reason, the Netherlands and Australia have not grasped the wider implications of Sea Shepherd’s attacks. If nations start to liberally pick and choose those conventions they wish to enforce, then the whole system of maritime regulation loses meaning and credibility. Laws cannot be applied arbitrarily.

To paraphrase the French philosopher Voltaire, even if they disapprove of some the activities being carried out at sea, nations should defend the right for them to be undertaken lawfully. Mob rule and anarchy on the High Seas is incompatible with the managed utilization of natural resources.

LA Shippers Settle Fraud Charges

Two Los Angeles area shipping companies have agreed to pay fines to the Federal Maritime Commission to settle allegations that they’d engaged in fraud or unfair practices.

The parties settled and agreed to penalties, but did not admit to violating the Shipping Act or Commission regulations. Staff attorneys with the FMA’s Bureau of Enforcement negotiated the agreements.

“If you defraud customers, mislabel cargo, or otherwise violate the Shipping Act (the FMA’s enforcement bureau) will be looking for you,” Maritime Commission Chair Richard A. Lidinsky, Jr. said in a Feb. 15 statement regarding the settlements.

The agreed penalties resulted from investigations conducted by the Commission area representatives in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles.

The two California companies fined were OEC Los Angeles, a freight forwarder and licensed non-vessel-operating common carrier (NVOCC) based in Cerritos; and Solex Logistics, a licensed and bonded NVOCC located in Inglewood.

The FMC had alleged that Solex violated section 10 of the Shipping Act by knowingly and willfully “mis-describing” cargo under applicable service contracts, and charged inapplicable NVOCC rates.

The Commission also said that OEC Los Angeles violated the Shipping Act by knowingly and willfully applying reduced rates in service contracts, contrary to contract provisions.

OEC Los Angeles agreed to pay a $235,000 fine; Solex was assessed a $105,000 penalty.

They were among eight companies that agreed to pay a combined $490,000 in penalties, according to the Maritime Commission. Of other six companies penalized as part of the investigation, five are based in New York, and one in the Virgin Islands.

Longview Protestors Plead Guilty

The fallout from last summer’s labor unrest regarding the Port of Longview’s EGT grain terminal continues, as two men who were arrested during last summer’s protests at the terminal have pleaded guilty to trespassing, while another now faces felony charges.

According to court documents, 51-year-old Rollin Axt of Kelso, and Ryan Sherman, 28, of Longview, were fined $200 and ordered to perform 20 hours of community service by Cowlitz County District Court after admitting to the misdemeanors.

The men, who pled guilty last week, were among almost 150 people arrested during July 11 protests by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 and supporters against the terminal operator.

Axt and Sherman, however, represent rare victories for prosecutors in the cases. In the cases that have been brought to the court since December, juries have found numerous protestors not guilty, and charges have been dropped against others. In mid-February, criminal trespass cases against eight more protestors were dropped.
Dozens more cases are still pending, however. On Feb. 13, longshoreman William Halladay, 47, of Castle Rock, was formally charged by the Cowlitz County Sheriff with second degree assault with a deadly weapon and endangering the safety of a train, both felonies.

Halladay is alleged to have used a log-stacking machine to dangle heavy logs above railroad tracks and in front of a train bound for the terminal on Sept. 21, forcing the train to stop.

The protests stemmed from EGT using the services of a union other than the ILWU at the $200 million grain terminal. Local 21 had contended that its contract with the Port of Longview required that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal go to ILWU labor. Members of Operating Engineers Local 701 had been working at the terminal.

During some protests last year, picketers stormed the facility, cut brake lines on rail cars and dumped grain from the cars, among other things, which led to dozens of arrests on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.

The dispute was settled with a new labor contract earlier this year.

UP Reaches Settlement in Coal, Oil Spills

Union Pacific Railroad and the US Environmental Protection Agency have reached a settlement regarding spills of coal and oil by trains along railroad lines in three Western U.S. states.

“We have secured a settlement that will help prevent spills, protect water quality, and improve the safety of Union Pacific’s operations in 20 communities across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming,” EPA regional administrator Jim Martin said in announcing the settlement.

Specifically, UP had been accused of causing six oil spills within the three states in 2003 and 2004, and also three spills of loads of coal in Colorado during the same time period. The EPA also said the company had an inadequate spill prevention, control and countermeasure program in place at the time.

Under the agreement, UP is required to pay a $1.5 million fine, $1.4 million of which would be deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is used by federal agencies to respond to oil spills.

The remaining $100,000 would be deposited in the US Treasury for the coal spills and stormwater violations.

The settlement also requires UP to develop a management and reporting system to ensure compliance with EPA regulations, and storm water requirements at 20 rail yards in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

As part of that, UP is required by the EPA to name an environmental vice-president, who would be responsible for complying with oil spill prevention and stormwater control requirements at the 20 rail yards.

“Union Pacific has already begun putting necessary measures in place,” Martin said, “and we will ensure they continue to do so.”

Port of Seattle Presents Environmental Awards

For the second straight year, the Port of Seattle has presented Green Gateway Partners Awards to recognize the environmental achievements of its cruise and containership tenants.

The awards, which were announced Feb. 17, are based on a scoring system. Depending on the number of points earned, port tenants can achieve one of three recognition levels – gold, silver or bronze.

Eligibility for the awards begins with participation in the port’s At-Berth Clean Fuels program, or use of shore power as a minimum requirement. These and other environmental activities then assigned point values. The awards and scoring system are maintained by a third party.

This year’s gold award winners were APL Ltd., Royal Caribbean International, Hapag-Lloyd, Celebrity Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line and Maersk Line. All received high marks in such categories as innovative vessel design, environment protection programs and environmental pilot/test programs.

Receiving silver awards were Matson Navigation and Holland America Line. COSCO Container Lines was the sole bronze award recipient.

“These maritime operators demonstrate by their actions every day that you can be good environmental stewards while contributing to our economy,” Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani said.

The name of the awards – Green Gateway Partners – is a nod to the port’s branding of itself as the Green Gateway for maritime trade between Asia and the central US.

A 2009 study showed that for cargo originating in much of Asia and bound for a range of destinations across the United States, routes through Seattle resulted in lower carbon emissions than other routes.