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Friday, February 20, 2015

Labor Meeting Halts Work at Oakland Marine Terminals

By Mark Edward Nero

No gate, yard or vessel work took place during the 8 am to 5 pm shift at Port of Oakland on Feb. 19 as marine terminal operations were halted due to longshore workers taking the day off for a union meeting, the port said.

In addition, vessel operations did not resume on the second shift due to a suspension of nighttime activity instituted by terminal operators in mid-January. The lack of longshore labor during the day meant containers were not loaded or unloaded on the 12 vessels berthed at the port. It also prevented the release of import containers or acceptance of exports for overseas shipment.

The port said it expected full operations to resume on Feb. 20.

“The decision not to work is damaging to shippers who rely on the Port of Oakland to move their cargo, and to the thousands of people who depend on the port for their livelihood,” Port Maritime Director John Driscoll said. “Disruptions such as this one cripple our ability to support global trade and the economy of the Bay Area.”

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union took the day off to conduct a monthly meeting – known as a “stop-work” meeting – that is typically held during the evening, not during the day shift when the port is at the peak of its activity.

But although the port placed the halting of terminal activity squarely on the shoulders of the dockworkers, a source with the union said that ILWU Local 10 notified the terminal operators on Feb. 3 that it would be conducting the stop work meeting on Feb. 18, and that the terminal operators had plenty of time to prepare for the occurrence.

An evening stop work meeting could not be held by the union because the port had eliminated the second shift, said the source, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to publicly address the issue.

Congestion Drives Down POLB Container Volumes

By Mark Edward Nero

Lingering congestion at West Coast seaports drove down container cargo by 18.8 percent in January at Long Beach compared to the same month last year, according to newly released data.

Overall, 429,490 TEUs of containerized cargo moved through the Port of Long Beach in January, according to the data, which was released Feb. 18. Of that number, imports numbered 213,667 TEUs, a 23.5 percent decline from January 2014. Also, exports slid 19.6 percent to 98,462 TEUs, while the number empty containers moved declined 7.6 percent to 117,361 TEUs.

Long Beach has attributed the serious drop in cargo volume to congestion and contract issues plaguing the West Coast ports in recent months. The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents marine terminal management, and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union labor representatives have been negotiating a new contract for dock work since May 2014.

“We have been strongly urging the two parties to come to an agreement on a new contract, so that we can clear the backlog of cargo on the docks and the ships anchored off the coast,” Port of Long Beach Chief Executive Jon Slangerup said. “We are encouraged by recent progress through federal mediation and are hopeful that the contract will be signed soon, so that the Port complex can focus on returning operations to a normal pace.”

The latest monthly cargo numbers for the Port of Long Beach can be found at http://www.polb.com/economics/stats/latest_teus.asp, while more details on the cargo numbers are available at www.polb.com/stats.

Puget Sound Container Volumes Take a Dip

By Mark Edward Nero

The ports of Seattle and Tacoma saw their combined container volumes take a double-digit dip of 13 percent in January compared to the same month in 2014, according to data released by the ports Feb. 18.

Seattle and Tacoma, which began reporting joint cargo volumes in December, handled a combined 226,906 TEUs last month, according to data. Containerized imports plunged 21 percent to 89,982 TEUs, while exports dipped seven percent to 81,213 TEUs. Domestic volumes to Alaska and Hawaii fell seven percent to 55,711 TEUs.

The released data does not include information on how each port performed individually during the month.

The ports say that issues related to ongoing contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union began affecting cargo movement at Seattle and Tacoma in late October, as was the case at other West Coast ports, particularly those in Southern California. The PMA and ILWU have been in contract negotiations since May 2014.

Seattle and Tacoma announced in October 2014 plans to form a Seaport Alliance to unify management of marine cargo terminals and related functions. The strategy, currently in the due diligence phase, is in response to competitive threats and something the ports have said should strengthen the Puget Sound gateway and create more economic opportunities for the region.

Oakland Experiences Dramatic Cargo Volume Drop

By Mark Edward Nero

Monthly cargo volume at Port of Oakland declined dramatically in January, the result of the ongoing West Coast waterfront labor dispute. The port reported Feb. 17 that its total containerized volume was down about 30 percent compared to the same month last year.

Last month, Oakland terminals saw a total of 138,055 TEUs, a drop of 29.7 percent from the same month last year. Imports were down 39 percent compared January 2014, while exports declined 26 percent, according to port data.

The port attributed the steep declines to slowdowns arising from a dispute between dockworkers with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and employers who are represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, over a new contract. Port operations at 29 ports up and down the West Coast have been affected by the impasse, which is now in its ninth month.

“With a decline in productivity and a breakdown in vessel schedules at all US West Coast ports, cargo volumes are far from normal,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll said.

The port says its loss in cargo traffic is attributable in part to importers beginning to divert containerized cargo to gateways outside the US West Coast, including ports in Canada, Mexico and the US East Coast.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shipping Company Admits to Dumping Oily Bilge

By Mark Edward Nero

A shipping company and one of its engineers have agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges involving wastewater dumping in US waters off Alaska, federal prosecutors said Feb. 12.

German shipping company AML Ship Management GMBH and chief engineer Nicholas Sassin admitted that AML-operated cargo ship City of Tokyo, which was carrying vehicles from South Korea to the US West Coast – pumped 4,500 gallons of oily bilge water overboard while sailing 165 miles south of the Aleutian Islands, according to plea agreements filed in federal courts in Anchorage and Portland.

The ship is a 603 feet long, Liberian-flagged vehicle carrier vessel. The dumping took place on or about Aug. 29, 2014, according to court documents.

According to prosecutors, the oily bilge water bypassed the ship’s legally mandated oil-water separator by being sent directly overboard through a makeshift hose-and-pump system.

AML and Sassin have each agreed to plead guilty to one count of violating the Clean Water Act and another count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The Clean Water Act charges, filed in Anchorage, concern the actual dumping; the APPS charges, filed in Portland, concern falsified wastewater records that court documents say were turned over to authorities when the City of Tokyo arrived in Portland, the ship’s delivery destination.

AML has agreed to pay $800,000 in fines and community service payments, to undergo an environmental compliance plan to improve operations and to serve three years of criminal probation, according to the plea agreement.

Sassin’s plea agreement does not specify a penalty deal between the parties, but federal prosecutors have said they’ll recommend a six-month prison term.

The maximum possible penalty for each of the violations is a $500,000 fine for the company and a $250,000 fine and a three-year prison term for Sassin, according to Assistant US Attorney Kevin Feldis, who said that it was crew members who alerted authorities to the illegal dumping.

“In this case, we had people who followed the law and did what was right,” he said.

Ports Reopen, Labor Secretary Enters Contract Talks

By Mark Edward Nero

Ports up and down the US West Coast resumed vessel operations the morning of Feb. 17, bringing to an end a four-day lockout instituted by the Pacific Maritime Association as part of an ongoing dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The four dates affected by the suspension of vessel operations were Thurs. Feb. 12; Sat., Feb. 14; Sun., Feb. 15; and Mon., Feb. 16. Yard, gate and rail operations, however, did continue at terminal operators’ discretion.

The PMA, which represents cargo terminal management, has said it imposed the operations shutdown because workers have been engaged in an illegal work slowdown and that it didn’t want to give weekend and holiday pay to longshore workers during President’s Day weekend.

Weekend and holiday pay rates command a premium of at least 50 percent more than the basic longshore wage rate.

The two sides have been engaged in contract talks since May but haven’t been able to reach a resolution, even though a federal arbitrator joined the talks in January. On Feb. 15, President Obama sent US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to the San Francisco Bay Area, where the two sides of the issue have been negotiating a new contract. Talks are expected to resume with the Labor Secretary in attendance today.

The previous six-year deal expired July 1. On Feb. 4, the PMA revealed it had made the union an offer that would raise ILWU wages by 14 percent over five years, on top of current average full-time wages of $147,000 per year and would maintain fully employer-paid health care, plus increase the ILWU pension to as much as $88,800 per year.

The ILWU, while not commenting on specifics on the contract offer, has insisted that the two sides are close to an agreement.

Foss, Port of Seattle Sign Terminal Lease

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Seattle last week signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime that gives Foss the right to short-term moorage and vessel operations along 50 acres at the port’s 156-acre Terminal 5, which is currently undergoing renovation.

“I signed a lease on Feb. 9, 2015 effective immediately, that will permit short-term moorage and vessel operations at Terminal 5,” Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick said in a Feb. 11 letter to stakeholders. “The short-term lease is for normal and accessory cargo activities as permitted.”

The proposed interim cargo use at Terminal 5 will represent no change of use from the activities of the previous tenant, Fick said.

Under the lease, Foss is to pay $550,000 a month, or $13.17 million, over the term of the lease. After the news of the lease became public, multiple environmental groups publicly expressed their disappointment, saying that more studies needed to be performed before a contract was awarded.

The lease, which includes two one-year extension options, is part of a push by the port to find an interim use for the land and keep revenue coming in.

Cargo operations at the terminal were relocated in July 2014 as part of a modernization program under which stronger piers, deeper berths and other improvements are to be constructed. The terminal’s expected to reopen in 2018.

Victoria Shipyards Receives Excellence Award

By Mark Edward Nero

The Canadian branch of advanced technology company Lockheed Martin has given its first Supplier Excellence Award to Victoria Shipyards for its work and contribution to the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax Class Modernization-Combat Systems Integration project.

HCM-CSI is a modernization program for the mid-life upgrade of radars, major critical sensors, command and control systems, operations room and a suite of simulation and training systems. Victoria Shipyards, which is part of Canadian maritime industry company Seaspan, has managed the disassembly and removal of legacy systems, the retrofit and renovation of space on-board, and the installation of new systems and sensors for the five West Coast-based Halifax Class frigates under contract to LM Canada MST.

Work completed on Canada’s frigates is also providing opportunities to expand the program internationally. Lockheed Martin Canada signed a $180-million contract in May 2014 to supply the combat equipment to modernize New Zealand’s Te Kaha and Te Mana Anzac-class frigates. The first NZ frigate slated for modernization is expected to arrive at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards in mid-2016, contingent on a contract being finalized this year.

“We are grateful to Lockheed Martin Canada for bestowing on us its Supplier Excellence Award for our work on HCM,” Seaspan Shipyards President Brian Carter said. “Our contribution has benefited from a strong working relationship with Lockheed Martin Canada, an unwavering commitment of our Victoria Shipyards tradesmen and management and an effective working relationship at the shipyard with the Royal Canadian Navy.”