Cargo tonnage rose more than 6% at the port

November 04, 1992|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

Cargo handled at state-owned terminals rose more than 6 percent during the third quarter, reversing a steady decline this year in business at the port of Baltimore.

General cargo climbed to 1,270,426 tons, an increase of 73,219 tons over the same period last year, according to figures released yesterday by the Maryland Port Commission.

The increase was attributed largely to the growth in container tonnage and a surge in break bulk cargo, such as wood pulp. Both combined to offset a continued decline in steel exports and automobile imports.

Even with the latest increase, total tonnage handled at the port through the third quarter of 1992 lagged the same period last year by 1.6 percent.

Still, port officials predicted that the 1992 year-end total would top 1991 tonnage.

"This increase means more man-hours for our longshoremen, more business for the port's private sector and increased revenue for the Maryland Port Administration and the state," said O. James Lighthizer,Maryland secretary of transportation and chairman of the port commission.

During the past seven years, the port lost cargo steadily as steamship lines left and few new ones decided to call Baltimore. Businesses complained that the port was inadequate to meet their needs and that labor troubles were creating costly problems. In a two-year period, the port saw three different strikes.

Port officials attributed the latest encouraging figures yesterday to improved labor relations and the growing use of the Seagirt terminal, which opened two years ago. During the past year, a number of new shipping lines have begun to call Baltimore and existing lines have expanded their service here. At the same time, none have left, though one went out of business.

Port officials also said that during the past three years, the amount of downtime at the port's five terminals has declined from an average of 3 percent to less than one-half of 1 percent today, which they attributed to improved training for longshoremen and better maintenance of the port's cranes.

The third-quarter increase in cargo tonnage signaled that Baltimore's share among East Coast ports was likely to continue growing, officials said.

Through May, Baltimore's market share was 19 percent compared with 24.9 percent for Norfolk, 14.7 percent for New York, and 13 percent for Philadelphia.

Overall, imports for the third quarter rose 17.4 percent to 685,665 tons from 584,287 tons in 1991's third quarter. Exports, however, dropped 4.6 percent to 584,761 tons, reflecting the dramatic decline worldwide for U.S. steel.

In addition to the drop in steel exports, the port also handled 23 percent less automobile cargo, though Baltimore maintained its status as the second-largest U.S. port for importing cars, behind Los Angeles.

The port agency statistics do not include traffic at private facilities, such as coal piers and grain elevators. Many of those terminals, particularly coal piers, are busier this year than 1991, which was the best year for coal since 1983.

Also yesterday, the MPA reported net operating income of $383,000 for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, compared with a $462,000 operating loss during the same quarter last year. Prior to this year, the agency had lost money for three consecutive years.

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