Baltimore's location, labor appeal to shipping lines


October 09, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton

After suffering a dramatic decline during the 1980s, the port of Baltimore has seen a resurgence during the past two years, with shipping lines adding service and bringing more cargo here. During the first six months of this year alone, the amount of cargo is up 18 percent. That means more jobs for the multitude of businesses that depend on coming and going of ships.

Can the state count on that growth to continue? Here, shipping )) executives discuss what factors prompted them to choose the port of Baltimore. They also look at disadvantages that could cause some lines to select competing ports like Hampton Roads, Va., or Philadelphia.

Capt. S.Y. Kuo

Vice Chairman, Evergreen America Corp.

I think the most important thing is where the cargo comes from. Baltimore is one of the ports that is close to the Midwest area. A lot of cargo moves from there to Baltimore. The geographical location is important.

One of the very important things is the service provided by the port. The port provides better service, and they've improved a lot. All of those things together make a line decide to pick up a port. The management and labor cooperation has been a very important element. There's been a big change there.

Baltimore is one of our original ports. Evergreen's largest port is New York and then Charleston, where a lot more export cargo moves than Baltimore. Baltimore is almost balanced between export and imports.

Arno H. F. Dimmling

Vice president, terminal operations, Sea-Land Service Inc.

It's not only a case of where the cargo is. You have to look at where your competitors are as well. There are certain trade patterns. Our north-south trade is very big. We have South American service out of Baltimore. And we have a lot of competition that serves that area as well.

When we look at our overall port structure, we try to get the geography such that we split the coast so we have a major Northeast port, a major Central port and a major Southern port. This gives us the ability to really span the whole geographic area. Baltimore is very logistically located for us.

Also, it's got good labor. It's improved dramatically. I can remember 20 years ago when labor was very difficult to deal with. They wouldn't work in the rain. Now there's high productivity in the port.

A lot depends, though, on the traffic flows and rail infrastructure. While the port has some play in that because they entice the rail and help to make that infrastructure better, some places just logistically don't work. The port of Baltimore has done an awfully lot to entice the cargo.

The administration at the port has been more pro-active, trying to find the things that would attract us.

Thomas Larsen

Vice president of operations, Maersk Line

If the cargo is there, the steamship will be there. There's no doubt about that. That's the major factor. Baltimore is in a good position to attract the cargo. Only the cargo you control yourself can you steer somewhere else.

Another thing is cost and time. The cost here is good. The time, of course, is something else because you have to go up the bay, and for large ships that takes about 10 hours.

Labor has changed for the better, a lot. Working in the rain is a big difference and the flexibility of hours. The facilities also have changed a lot.

Maersk has been in Baltimore for many years. It has been growing up to now. We know that the ocean transportation industry is growing, so I assume Baltimore will follow that.

Morten Raabe

President, Wilhelmsen Lines USA

The No. 1 factor is commercial aspect. Baltimore is not too far away from the customers. We would never choose Baltimore if we were commercially hurt.

For some of the customers, it is the distance. How far is it from their plant? For others, it's the terminal. How efficient is it? How much are we paying for terminal cost? I wouldn't say there are big differences between Baltimore and other terminals in terms of cost.

It's a lot of factors that determine where we go . . . the location, the terminals, the draft, the port authorities, the stevedores, customs. All those are parameters which you look into. You're dependent on good relations with all of those.

The disadvantage is ships have to come nine hours up the bay to Baltimore. Norfolk is much more convenient. Still, some customers would choose Baltimore rather than going to New York where it costs more, you have too many players, and storage warehouses have much less space than those in Baltimore.

The infrastructure here is good. Baltimore for us is ranked as one of three important ports in the U.S.

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