Yugoslav war forces revisions for agent here Shipping agent faces Croatia's changing status.

October 31, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

One day, Gerald Wade was working for a company based in Rijeka, Yugoslavia. The next day, a memo passed across his desk listing his parent company's address as Rijeka, Croatia.

Such is the fickleness of war.

It's impossible for Wade to predict what the outcome of the Yugoslavian civil war will mean for his business.

"Nothing like this has happened since the end of World War II, so God knows," Wade says.

The Crossocean Shipping Co. Inc.'s Baltimore office where Wade works has had to make a few adjustments to cope with the civil war.

The shipping agency is owned by the Yugoslavian private shipping line, Jugolinija, and serves Jugolinija ships at ports in New York; Baltimore; Norfolk, Va.; and Savannah, Ga.

Jugolinija's headquarters is in the breakaway Yugoslavian republic of Croatia, which has been trying to establish its independence since June.

It is too soon to tell how Croatia's attempts to win independence will ultimately affect Jugolinija, says Wade, but the war there has prompted the shipping line to reflag its 51-vessel fleet.

Three cargo container ships calling at Baltimore will sail now under the Maltese rather than the Yugoslavian flag, and the line is talking about changing its name.

In another change, the shipping line has dropped service to Yugoslavian ports because of naval blockades and the dangers posed by the war. Cargo now is dropped off in Italy and either shipped into Croatia on feeder lines or moved to the republic by rail.

Yugoslavian captains and crews who stop over in Baltimore and try to call home say they frequently get busy signals or dead lines.

Crossocean's office is a metal trailer tucked away between rows of cargo containers at the Dundalk Marine Terminal. All of the employees are Americans. Not even Wade has been to his company's home operation. Most communication with the parent company goes through the New York Crossocean office.

Because Yugoslavia represents only a small part of the line's business, cargo shipments have not been affected by the war, Wade says. The line's biggest market is the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf War earlier this year proved more disruptive than the conflict in Croatia.

Actually, the last few months brought some good news to Crossocean, Wade says.

The shipping line says it intends to establish a schedule that will have ships calling at Baltimore every other Thursday. In the past, calls to the port have been haphazard at best, leading customers to complain, Wade says.

As a result of the war in the Middle East, the line stopped calling to ports in the region, even though it represented 85 percent of the line's business. No calls in the Middle East meant no calls in Baltimore during March and April.

But now the line is resuming service to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and adding services in Pakistan and India. Ships also are carrying more cargo than they have before.

The 18 sailings so far this year have averaged 250 containers, compared with an average of 230 containers a ship last year.

Ships are now loaded with relief goods for the Middle East and medical supplies, food and clothing for Yugoslavia.

Crossocean has represented Jugolinija in Baltimore since 1974. The line is the ninth largest cargo carrier calling in Baltimore.

Wade says he supports the efforts of Croatia to gain independence from Yugoslavia, and especially to resist attacks by the Serbian-dominated army. "It matters to me that Croatia doesn't get overrun by Serbs," he says.

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