Md., Va. officials spar over Seagirt

October 17, 1990|By John H. Gormley Jr.

Maryland officials sang the praises of the port of Baltimore's new Seagirt Marine Terminal to maritime industry executives yesterday.

But representatives of the competing ports of Virginia retorted that Seagirt, though it may set off a rate war, won't change the balance of power in the struggle for supremacy among mid-Atlantic ports.

At a conference in Baltimore on international trade and transportation, Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, told the audience that Sea

girt is "as far-reaching in its design as any [terminal] you have seen in the world."

The $250 million terminal, which opened last month, includes a dockside rail terminal, seven fast, semi-automated cranes and a computerized truck gate for processing cargo.

While investing in new technology, the port of Baltimore also has worked on relations with labor and the railroads, Mr. O'Malley said. In the past, he said, "you bashed the railroad, you bashed the unions, they bashed you. That was a recipe for no growth. That is no longer occurring."

That message, delivered to representatives of shippers, steamship lines and other transportation businesses, did not convince two top officials of the ports of Hampton Roads, Va., who attended.

Joseph Dorto, general manager of Virginia International Terminals, which operates the state-owned docks in Hampton Roads, said steamship lines seem to be choosing Seagirt more for the contract inducements offered by the MPA rather than any operating efficiencies it might offer.

Two lines, Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Evergreen Marine Corp., have signed Seagirt leases. Both lines moved their operations to Seagirt from other state-owned terminals in Baltimore.

J. Robert Bray, executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, said Maryland officials "discounted business they already had to get lines to move from one facility to another."

Seagirt increases the port's container-handling capacity by about 50 percent. The need to fill that capacity is driving Maryland to cut rates, Mr. Dorto said. "The additional capacity has put pressure on them to get business in there," he said, and that could lead to a rate war.

Mr. O'Malley, however, said Seagirt's lure is its efficiency. "Seagirt's appeal is based on technical superiority and ability to run cargo through

there speedily," he said. Mr. O'Malley said he found it ironic that Virginia officials were critical of Maryland's pricing policies. "Isn't it interesting that this pot as black as the ace of spades has the

audacity to call the kettle something," he said, accusing Virginia of providing subsidies of $200 to $300 a container to induce shippers and steamship lines to use the inland port at Front Royal.

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