Steamship agents in the port of Baltimore decided yesterday against trying to reach a compromise agreement with the Chesapeake Bay pilots on their proposed rate increase, opting instead to leave the rate issue in the hands of the Public Service Commission.
"The Maryland Maritime Association has agreed to let the Public Service Commission carry forward with their job," said Roy A. Schleicher, president of the group representing the agents.
Mr. Schleicher had called an emergency meeting of the group yesterday, after a poll of the members showed that they were split on which course to take: to try to reach an understanding with the pilots or to leave it with the PSC. The decision to defer to the PSC was almost unanimous, Mr. Schleicher said.
The Association of Maryland Pilots is a state-regulated monopoly. The group's 78 members guide the big ships on the bay as they sail to and from the port of Baltimore. The rates charged by the pilots depend on the size of the ship and range from less than $2,000 for a small containership to more than $8,000 for a large coal ship. Under their request for a rate increase filed with the PSC, those rates would go up about 10 percent this year and by an additional 10 percent in each of the next two years.
A hearing on the pilots' rate case is scheduled Aug. 22.
Last week, Mr. Schleicher asked members of the Maryland Maritime Association to consider asking the pilots to agree to rate increases of 9 percent in the first two years and 7 percent in the third. Mr. Schleicher said yesterday that those figures had been worked out in discussions with the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., a group that represents employers of unionized dockworkers in the port.
If the MMA had agreed, the proposal would have been submitted Capt. Michael R. Watson, the president of the pilots, for consideration by his members. There was no guarantee that the pilots would accept.
Mr. Schleicher said that Captain Watson "never gave us any figure he could go with."
The hope had been that if the two trade groups could come up with a compromise acceptable to the pilots, expensive and potentially contentious hearings before the PSC could be avoided. The PSC would still have had the final say over any rate increases, but it would have been able to pass judgment much more quickly if there were no objections from maritime businesses in Baltimore.
"When you go to the Public Service Commission, it costs a lot of money," Mr. Schleicher said.
Working with the STA and the pilots to reach a settlement also would have helped the port convey an image of greater cooperation, he said. "You've got good people in this port. If they put their heads together, they can go places," he said.
Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., said Monday that the proposal represented a collective effort to keep port costs down.
"We want to try to contain costs while recognizing the efforts of the pilots to keep business coming to the port," Mr. Byan said.