Military ship brings business to port

April 26, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr.

As Maj. Freddie Joe Black looked on yesterday from the pier at Seagirt Marine Terminal, longshoremen drove heavy construction equipment down the stern ramp of the battleship-gray Cape Ducato, a military cargo ship.

As the bulldozers, earthmovers, trucks, cranes and forklifts moved steadily from the ship to the storage area a couple of hundred yards back from the water, Major Black expressed his pleasure with Baltimore's facilities for unloading ships. "I don't think you could ask for much better," he said.

The performance of Baltimore's longshoremen also won the praise of the military. Lt. Col. Harold L. Hagans Jr., commander of the Army's Military Traffic Management Command operations in Baltimore, said the unloading of the Cape Ducato went well, even though the longshoremen have not had much experience driving the kinds of vehicles taken off the Cape Ducato. "They're doing an excellent job, despite the fact they don't move this kind of equipment very often."

A lot of hopes for more military cargo in the port of Baltimore are riding on the assessments of people like Major Black and Colonel Hagans. During the massive buildup of military forces in the Persian Gulf, not a single military cargo ship called at the port of Baltimore.

That prompted a concerted effort by the Maryland Port Administration and port businesses to persuade the government consider Baltimore for cargo returning to the United States after the war. The Cape Ducato represents the fruit of those efforts. The port's performance in unloading the Cape Ducato could go a long way in determining just how much military cargo will move through Baltimore in the coming months.

The Cape Ducato did not come directly to Baltimore from the Middle East. First it stopped in Charleston, S.C., where it discharged about two-thirds of its cargo. The remaining third -- 154 vehicles belonging to the 365th Engineering Battalion, based in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., east of Harrisburg -- was unloaded in Baltimore.

The work that started at about 8 a.m. seemed to have proceeded without a hitch. At just after 2 p.m., all the vehicles were off the ship and lined up in long columns, ready to be divided up into convoys for the trip north. (About 40 of the vehicles, such as the bulldozers, cannot be driven on the highway and will be loaded an trailers and taken away by commercial trucking companies.)

"We hope to have the first on the road by 1 p.m." today, said John R. Bowles, a civilian employee from Fort George C. Meade who supervised the unloading for the Army. "We will keep [the convoys] small so they won't interfere with civilian traffic."

In addition to providing work for about 50 longshoremen, the presence of the ship gave a boost to other businesses in the port. The ship will remain in port over the weekend for repairs before departing on its fifth voyage to the Persian Gulf since the mobilization began in August.

Baltimore Ship Repair Inc., known as Phillyship of Baltimore, has been hired for a number of chores, including fixing a leaky ballast tank, replacing sections of pipes in the ship's firefighting system and repairing the main engine clutch.

Michael W. Moss, the vice president in charge of Phillyship's Baltimore operations, said the work will go on around the clock until the ship leaves. The contract will allow him to call back 25 workers who had been laid off.

His company is but one of many that will benefit from the ship's presence. Pilots, tugboat operators and crews, truckers and ship suppliers all will have work to do. Mr. Moss observed, "The ripple effect of one ship is incomprehensible."

He said he took encouragement from the fact that the various interests in the port have been able to persuade the military to send a ship to Baltimore. The presence of the Cape Ducato "clearly indicates that goals are being set and achieved" in the port, he said.

Todd Datsis, the Cape Ducato's captain, said that his ship and others in the government fleet are likely to be busy ferrying cargo from the Mideast for about a year.

During the emergency buildup, a large number of foreign-flag ships were chartered to augment the U.S. fleet. To save money, the government is likely to let those charters expire and assign the bulk of the return cargo to the ships it owns.

The question now is just how many of these military cargo ships will call at Baltimore in the next few months. Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., said another military ship is scheduled to unload cargo in Baltimore next week. And he hopes the military will schedule more in the months to come, based on the port's performance yesterday. He said, "It's an indication of what we can do."

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