Container line says it will halt weekly call at port Crowley's new deal prompts change

Shipping

May 21, 1998|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

A new vessel-sharing agreement among three shipping companies means the port of Baltimore has lost another container line. Crowley American Transport of Jacksonville, Fla., said it will no longer make its weekly Baltimore call.

Crowley, a subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corp. in Oakland, Calif., had brought 6,000 containers to Baltimore annually. It will keep its 10-person office here and use the port as an alternate site.

The operating agreement teams up Crowley with Oakland's APL Ltd. and Ivaran Lines of Norway, which already has established port operations in Philadelphia and Norfolk, Va., said Crowley spokesman Mark Miller. Additionally, Crowley will use ports in New York, Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on the way to its South American operations.

"It's not like the port of Baltimore has done something wrong or we're dissatisfied with it," Miller said. "But we had to make a decision, and Baltimore just didn't fit into our plans."

When in Baltimore, Crowley contracted with Universal Maritime Services Corp. to load and unload its ships and barges. Universal General Manager George Helm said Crowley was one of 33 companies it deals with and represents about 7 percent of its business.

Crowley's pullout, Helm said, means between 50 and 60 longshoremen will lose up to eight hours of work per week. But, he said, since Baltimore will still be an alternate port, his company could make up some lost business in barge and truck transports.

"It's not a good thing to see ships leaving the port -- that's where the volume is," Helm said. "But some of it may be picked up with the barges, so it may not be a total loss."

Linda Jordan, spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration, said the MPA was sorry to see Crowley go, but because the carrier didn't deal directly with an MPA-operated terminal, there wasn't much the state could do to encourage it to stay. Universal leases space at the Dundalk Marine Terminal from the state, then sets its own prices, she said.

"So the MPA would not have the leverage to say to terminal operators, 'OK, cut a deal,' " Jordan said.

She noted that the volume of general cargo moving through Baltimore's port is still on the upswing. Volume declined by 7.4 percent in 1996, but last year it rose 5 percent, and it was up 9 percent the first quarter of this year compared with the same quarter last year.

In January, however, container line Zim American Israeli Co. also suspended operations in Baltimore, in part due to a separate vessel-sharing agreement. When Maersk Line Inc. teamed up with Sea-Land Services Inc. in 1996, it meant the loss of about 120 ships a year here.

For its part, Crowley hasn't completely written off Baltimore.

"We do like Baltimore," Miller said, "and we're evaluating presently how we could get back into Baltimore -- preferably sooner rather than later."

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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