Ads placed by the ports of Virginia in the Journal of Commerce, the bible of the shipping industry, send a very pointed message to maritime executives and shippers around the world: Baltimore is to be avoided because of an unreliable work force and constantly changing leadership at the Maryland Port Administration.
Indeed, the port did endure two strikes by longshoremen last year, and the MPA recently got its third executive director in as many years. But state officials and maritime executives, citing progress made in recent months at the port of Baltimore, say they are untroubled by the ads.
Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., even went so far as to take some comfort from the vehemence of the ad campaign. "We're finally working here, starting to gel. Maybe Hampton Roads is getting worried," he said yesterday. "Maybe they see we're starting to get going and are throwing whatever mud they can at us."
One of the ads ran in yesterday's editions of the Journal of Commerce, a daily trade newspaper. A bold headline declared, "IN THE SHIPPING GAME, TWO STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT."
Beneath that maxim were two scraps of paper resembling headlines torn from a newspaper. "Shippers Bypassing Baltimore, Dockworkers Strike Shuts Down Port," read one. The other said, "Baltimore cargo clerks stage strike, Waterfront comes to a halt as result of surprise action."
A companion ad that has been running periodically since the beginning of July features pictures of Virginia Port Authority Executive Director J. Robert Bray, one taken this year and the other in 1967 when he was general counsel for the Virginia ports agency. The headline over the pictures reads, "AFTER 24 YEARS, LOOK HOW THE MANAGEMENT AT THE PORTS OF VIRGINIA HAS CHANGED."
Joseph A. Dorto, the general manager of Virginia International Terminals Inc, the operating arm of the VPA, said that the ad featuring Mr. Bray was not aimed directly at Baltimore.
"Look at the port directors around the U.S. Their life expectancy is not very long," he said.
The ad was meant simply to remind shippers that Virginia has been able to offer much greater continuity in leadership than most other ports, he said. "Bray still looks as bad as he did 20 years ago, but at least he's the same guy," Mr. Dorto said.
Of the ad reminding shippers of the two strikes Baltimore saw in one year, Mr. Dorto said, "Not having that labor problem is very important. We've worked hard to make sure that doesn't happen" in Virginia.
Mr. Byan disputed the suggestion that the Bray ad was not aimed directly at Baltimore. "What other port's had as many changes as we've had?" he said.
The best response to the ads, according to Mr. Byan, will be for the port to continue to do just what it has been doing this year. "I think we've learned to work together," he said of the various port interests, including labor, management and the state. "We've had our little turnaround. What are they worried about? Are we doing things right now?"
Adrian G. Teel, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said that he does not plan to launch an advertising counterattack. "I'm certainly not going to reply in kind," he said. "That's just not my style. It's not the kind of advertising campaign I wish to run."
While the port has just come through a very turbulent period, he said that he believes Baltimore is coming to grips with its problems, a fact he said that shippers and steamship lines officials seem to be acknowledging.
"They're receiving me very well. I think we're on the move," he said.
He voiced a hope that the level of rhetoric could be toned down. "What I'm going to do is talk to my fellow port directors on the East Coast to try to work together for the benefit of all ports. I think we have a lot to learn from each other. I'll be extending my hand."
David L. Bindler, regional director for Maersk Line in Baltimore, said that he did not think the ad campaign would have much effect on the decision-makers who are the ostensible objects of the campaign, because they know about the current business climate in Baltimore. "We haven't had any problems at all," he said of Maersk Line's experience since the end of the last International Longshoremen's Association strike and ratification of a new contract late last year.
Maersk Line handles more cargo in Baltimore than any other line. The line splits its business between Baltimore and Hampton Roads. Baltimore is pressing hard to get Maersk to sign a new long term lease that would solidify the line's presence in Baltimore for years to come.
Mr. Bindler said his line has repeatedly extended its current lease as the talks continued, but that a conclusion may be in sight.
"I hope we'll close this up very soon, I hope by fall," he said.