Little but snow moving off docks Ships and customers are made to wait

longshoremen lose pay

A wasted day for many

3 terminals are shut

operations limited at Seagirt and Dundalk

The port

January 09, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

The Blizzard of 1996 shut down three of the state's five public marine terminals and severely limited operations at the other two, Seagirt and Dundalk, until yesterday afternoon.

Longshoremen lost wages. Steamship lines lost time. Customers around the East Coast were forced to wait longer for merchandise with trucks stranded everywhere.

With highways shut down or blocked in the snow-bound Mid-West and East, only 15 trucks had arrived at Seagirt and Dundalk by midday yesterday to drop off or pick up containers or other cargo. That compared with nearly 1,500 on a typical day.

On the docks, privately contracted workers bulldozed the snow into piles and shoved it into the harbor. But while the piers were cleared and the cranes operational, huge snow drifts on the terminals' storage yard made it nearly impossible to move containers off and on the ships.

The weather didn't keep ships from arriving on schedule, but most of them were forced to dock for more than a day rather than hire gangs of longshoremen who would be slowed by the drifting snow.

"When the snow drifts under the containers, the yard trucks couldn't get in to move them," said Jim White, deputy executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which operates the public terminals. "They delayed loading until labor could be more productive."

Consequently, steamship lines on tight timetables to Europe or the Far East were thrown off schedule, since the loss of time here creates a domino effect that delays getting cargo to its ultimate destination.

"Sometimes they can cut out a port and make up the time," said Maurice Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association, which represents major employers here, "but typically it's a lost day." For huge carriers, a day typically means $50,000, he said.

"The storm meant lost time, lost wages," Mr. Byan said. "And it wasn't just the ships. It was also trucks trying to get cargo to and from the piers. Anyway you look at it, it's expensive."

But, at the Port of Baltimore, even 2 feet of snow was manageable compared with the ice that covered the docks for weeks in the winter of 1993.

"At least you could push the snow around," Mr. White said. "With the ice, even salt didn't help."

Normal operations are expected to resume today.

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