Many of the major ports on the East and gulf coasts are knee-deep these days in military cargo headed for the Middle East, but Baltimore has yet to load a single military cargo ship in support of Operation Desert Storm.
"It's got a lot of people baffled," Maurice C. Byan, president othe Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc. said last week.
The lack of military cargo is particularly surprising in view of the fact that the military used the port of Baltimore several years ago for exercises preparing for something very similar to what is happening right now -- a military emergency requiring a rapid military buildup overseas.
Mr. Byan said he understood that the port of Baltimore "received high marks" from the military for its performance in those exercises.
In the initial stages of the buildup in the Persian Gulf, ports were chosen largely because of their proximity to the units being moved to the Middle East. Since many of those units were based in the South, ports in the southeastern and gulf states benefited the most.
Through Dec. 19, Jacksonville, Fla., led with 33 ships; Houston was next with 26 ships; and Beaumont, Texas, handled 15.
Some of the more northern ports, however, still handled substantial amounts of cargo. Bayonne, N.J., considered a part of the port of New York, handled 13 ships, and Hampton Roads, Va., loaded three ships.
That's only part of the story. In addition to shiploads of heavequipment and combat gear moved on ships owned or chartered by the government, the military also is moving large quantities of containerized supplies carried by regular scheduled commercial shipping lines. Only a small amount of that kind of cargo has been moving through Baltimore.
The Army operates two large depots in southeasterPennsylvania, less than two hours away from Baltimore by truck. In the past, those depots have been an steady source of military cargo for the port of Baltimore, even without an emergency.
Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland PorAdministration, said, "I'm trying to figure out why we're not drawing more cargo out of these military depots," especially since they are "within spitting distance" of Baltimore.
One reason could be the lack of U.S.-flag steamship lines whose ships call at Baltimore. Most containerized military cargo moves under government contract with U.S.-flag steamship lines.
Mr. O'Malley said port officials and maritime executives have been disappointed by their inability to persuade the military to channel cargo through Baltimore.
Two weeks ago, stevedoring companies in the port of Baltimormet with Army transportation officials in Baltimore to discuss the situation. The stevedores, in hopes of convincing the military of the advantages of using Baltimore, are preparing estimates of the cost of moving the equipment of a mechanized division through Baltimore.
Mr. O'Malley said he had a meeting planned this week with a high-ranking Pentagon transportation officer . "It's something we're got to work harder on," Mr. O'Malley said. "I hope we turn it around. We should be getting more."