Port traffic surged in Jan., Feb. Increase attributed to burst in exports

April 25, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr.

The port of Baltimore experienced a surge in business during the first two months of the year, Brendan W. "Bud" O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, announced yesterday at a seminar on the future of the port.

Mr. O'Malley said that container traffic handled in the port increased 18 percent during the first two months. A big surge in exports helped to boost the tonnage. "Exports are gangbusters" at the port, he said.

The big percentage increase was helped by the fact that the port's performance this year was being compared with a weak performance a year ago, when there was a three-day strike by longshoremen in January.

"We didn't have a delightful January in 1990," Mr. O'Malley said.

The increase cited by Mr. O'Malley was based on figures for ports across the country compiled by the Journal of Commerce, a transportation industry newspaper.

Those statistics include only international cargo and leave out cargo that moves by barge between U.S. ports or cargo bound for Puerto Rico, which is considered domestic traffic.

The port's own statistics, which include domestic as well as foreign cargo, show a 13.7 percent increase in container traffic at state piers. For all categories of cargo, however, the increase was 21.7 percent for the two months.

Autos showed the most dramatic gain, increasing by 31.7 percent.

Total tonnage at state piers for the first two months was 885,000 tons, compared with 727,000 tons in the same period a year ago. Exports rose 39.5 percent in the period.

Imports rose a more modest 7.4 percent.

For most of the last decade the port of Baltimore has steadily lostmarket share to competing ports, though cargo tonnage levels have remained relatively stable.

This has meant that the port has a declining economic impact, evident in the loss of work for longshoremen. They logged 2.4 million hours last year, considerably less than half the 5.9 million hours worked in 1980.

The signs of renewed vigor in the port so far this year provided an encouraging backdrop for the participants in the annual port seminar sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies and the Maryland Port Administration.

Lester M. Salamon, the institute's director, said Baltimore has a "bright future as a port city." He said that realizing that future would require a much broader definition of the port that would permit the city to focus on some of the fundamental changes taking place in the international economy, including an increased emphasis on service jobs, particularly in the information services industry.

A number of participants observed that Baltimore is positioned for growth because of its facilities, particularly the new $250 million Seagirt Marine Terminal, but that the growth will come only if various port interests -- including government, labor and the private sector -- can join forces to provide a high level of customer service unmarred by the kinds of disputes that have been a chronic problem in the last few years.

M. McNeil Porter, president of CSX Intermodal, said, "We have a long way to go in Baltimore" to show customers the port can provide "seamless service."

William Potter, chairman of Preston Corp., which operates a trucking company with a national reputation for good labor relations, observed that resolving labor problems takes time.

"You don't overcome that in one week or one month," he said.

The biggest ovation of the day was reserved for someone who was not even an official member of the seminar panel: Horace Alston, the top official of the International Longshoremen's Association in Baltimore.

Mr. Alston declared that the elements for success were in place and that, left alone, labor and management could work closely together to solve problems and promote the port. "We have begun to pull things together," he said. "We know what we need. We've been doing this since the water's been there."

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