Port loses Tricon ship consortium to Hampton Roads

January 03, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

Ships serving a corsortium of three foreign ship lines will not be coming to Baltimore but will call at Virginia's Port of Hampton Roads instead.

The Tricon consortium would have brought to Baltimore a significant amount of business and a major boost in image. Losing it will probably mean some cargo that had been moving through Baltimore will be diverted elsewhere, according to one maritime businessman.

It also apparently --es the state's hopes of luring a ship line to Baltimore with the new Seagirt Marine Terminal. Seagirt tenants will probably come from among the lines already calling at Baltimore, a state official said.

Tricon, or Tricontinental Service, picked Hampton Roads over Baltimore for several reasons, including jitters over last month's dockworker strike, said Manuel "Mike" Diaz, owner's representative with Senator Line.

Senator, based in Germany, is one of three ship lines that formed the Tricon consortium. The other two are DSR of Germany and Cho Yang of Korea.

Last year's announcement of the consortium set off a battle among East Coast ports to get the business. Baltimore officials offered the use of the new Seagirt Marine Terminal, the $250 million cargo facility in Dundalk.

"It was close," Diaz said of the port selection. On the East Coast, Tricon ships will call at Fernandina Beach, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; New York; and Hampton Roads.

Hampton Roads has lured thousands of tons of cargo from Baltimore's piers over the past decade.

Senator currently calls at Fernandina Beach; Chester, Pa.; and Wilmington, N.C. DSR began serving the same ports in December in a cooperative venture with Senator. Cho Yang has not had regularly scheduled service to the United States.

As a group, the lines will deploy 24 vessels in a round-the-world service calling weekly at ports in Asia, Europe and the United States. Calls on the East Coast will begin next month.

"One of the things that got them a little nervous was the reaction of labor after the contract was signed," Diaz said.

Local 953 of the International Longshoremen's Association struck for two days last month after local contract talks broke down. A national contract had already been signed. Diaz said there were also concerns about the cost of running ships up and down the Chesapeake Bay.

"I liked a lot of what I saw [in Baltimore]. I liked the attitude of the MPA," Diaz said of the Maryland Port Administration, the state's chief port agency.

Diaz said the consortium will probably serve Baltimore customers by barge, although final preparations have not been made. The decisions on ports was made Friday, he said.

"It's a tremendous loss for the port because the time was right," said Rex Wheeler, Baltimore manager of Southern Steamship Agency, agent for Tricon.

His agency may end up diverting freight from lines that call at Baltimore to the new Tricon service, he said.

Baltimore offered lower rates than Hampton Roads, but it was not enough, Wheeler said. He said he was not involved in the port selection but speculated that Senator's desire to protect its tobacco-handling business may have played a role. The line moves tobacco out of Wilmington and may believe it will be easier to retain at Hampton Roads than Baltimore when it ceases Wilmington calls.

Michael Angelos, head of Maryland International Terminals, the state's terminal-operating company, said, "I would have loved to see them come here."

The line would have brought 17,000 standardized cargo containers a year to Baltimore -- making it a significant carrier here.

The state was hoping its high-technology Seagirt terminal would be a powerful lure to new business. So far, the only two tenants to sign leases at the terminal have been carriers already calling at other terminals in Baltimore.

But the port administration hoped to change that by landing Tricon or OOCL Inc.

OOCL, one of the largest carriers at Hampton Roads, announced recently that it is suspending vessel calls on the East Coast and will serve the region by train through West Coast ports.

Angelos said the state will now probably move forward over the next month to finalize lease negotiations with three major carriers already calling at Baltimore: Atlantic Container Line, Hapag-Lloyd and Puerto Rico Marine Management Inc.

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