New Legislation for US Ports

According to the news portal PortStrategy.com, new legislation is being considered to strengthen American ports to enhance the competitiveness of the country’s export economy.

The Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century has been proposed by U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell  in order to ensure there are enough funds to keep both large and small ports in operating condition.

Currently, the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which funds the operation and maintenance of US ports, is not being fully collected. Shippers can avoid paying the tax by shipping goods through other ports in Canada and Mexico and then transporting the goods into the US via truck and rail.

The proposed legislation would replace  the Harbor Maintenance Tax  with the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee, the proceeds of which would be fully available to Congress to provide for port operation and maintenance. This would double the amount of funds available and also ensure that shippers cannot avoid the fee by using ports in Canada and Mexico.

The act would also set up a competitive grant program using a percentage of the collected fees to improve the US intermodal transportation system so goods can be exported more efficiently.

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U.S. Union Sues Port of Portland

According to the information provided by the Reauters, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) filed a lawsuit against the Port of Portland, claiming the port violated the Oregon Public Records Act by charging the union $200,000 for public records searches.

ILWU submitted public records requests in June, September and December 2012. It said it was charged “arbitrary and excessive” fees to find the records and told further fees would be assessed for lawyers to review and segregate the records before release, the union said in a statement on Wednesday.

The lawsuit, filed on July 25 in Multnomah County circuit court, was the latest action in a heated labor battle pitting the ILWU against ports and grain exporters in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

ILWU wants the port to waive or reduce the fees and release the requested information. It also wants the court to issue an order declaring the port in violation of the Public Records Act.

The Port of Portland said it never denied access to records and that the high fees were due to the broad scope of the information requests which will take hundreds of hours to compile. The union alleges that the port’s handling of its public records requests “were motivated by discrimination, retaliation and hostility” because of the ILWU’s litigation involving the port.

The port offered to set up a payment plan but has not received a response from the ILWU, the port said in an emailed statement.

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US Ports Under Cyber Security Threat

According to the Brookings Institute’s study on US port facilities, a cyber disruption at the nation’s largest seaport complex of Los Angeles and Long Beach would hit 20% of the US marine transportation system. The report — “The Critical Infrastructure Gap: U.S. Port Facilities and Cyber Vulnerabilities” — examined  cyber vulnerabilities at six different U.S. ports.

Los Angeles  was highlighted for its lack of cyber-security vulnerability assessment and cyber incident response plan.

“Like many other ports in this study, physical security is the primary focus of the security forces, and though many of its security and other systems rely on networked systems, cyber-security is viewed as an IT function that lies outside the security portfolio,” said the report.

American ports, terminals, ships, refineries, and support systems are vital components of the nation’s critical infrastructure, national security, and economy. Cyber attacks on industrial control systems could kill or injure workers, damage equipment, expose the public and the environment to harmful pollutants, and lead to extensive economic damage.

In its conclusions the study called for Congress to pass legislation to give the US Coast Guard authority to enforce cyber-security standards for maritime critical infrastructure; adoption of cyber-security standards for port facilities; and for the Department of Homeland Security to structure a grant program to provide incentives for cyber-security projects, among other recommendations.

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US Trucking Tonnage Index Increases

As the Journal of Commerce reports, the American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Trucking Tonnage Index jumped 2.3 percent to 126.0 in May.  This is  the highest level on record, surpassing the previous high in December 2011(124.3).

Compared with May 2012, the index increased 6.7 percent, which is the largest year-over-year gain since December 2011. Year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2012, the tonnage index rose 4.5 percent.

As  Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist said that “some of the increase was driven by increased factory output in May, as well as retail sales that performed stronger than expected for the month.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 67 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around the 10th day of the month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.

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ILA Members Ratify New Six-Year Master Contract

The International Longshoreman’s Association’s 14,500 members have overwhelmingly approved the new 6-year contract  for East and Gulf coast dockworkers in a coast-wide referendum on April 9th.

ILA President Harold Daggett declared that they all “worked very hard, achieved landmark improvements and protected our members and our union for many years.”

As Journal of Commerce reports, an unofficial tally showed that ILA members in the Port of New York and New Jersey approved the coast-wide master contract by more than 4-to-1 and a supplemental local agreement by more than 3-to-1.

Other ports also reported lopsided majorities for ratification. Locals in the ILA’s South Atlantic and Gulf district voted nearly 95 percent in favor of the coast-wide pact. The contract was approved by healthy margins at every port from Boston to Houston.

ILA members got significant gains in the Master Contract  six-year agreement, including wage increases totaling $3 an hour spread out over the life of the agreement that will, by the final year of the new contract, bring their hourly rate of pay to $35.00 an hour. Lower tiered workers will enjoy an even higher wage percentage increase as their pay progression scale was shortened to six years from nine years in the new agreement. Thus, a new ILA member earning a base pay of $20.00 an hour at the start of the 6-year contract will increase to $35.00 an hour by the end of the sixth year of the contract.

The United States Maritime Alliance’s (USMX) members will vote to ratify the Master Contract on April 17. This will conclude more than a year of negotiations.

More details can be found on the ILA official portal

The Port of Houston to Repair Liberian Ports

According to the news agency allAfrica,  authorities from the Port of  Houston, Texas have entered an agreement with the National Port Authorities (NPA) to revamp various Liberian ports that were affected by the 1999–2003 civil war.
Part of the delegation from Houston who were on an assessment of the ports are business people who expressed desire to bring more businesses to Liberia. The delegation also visited the National Housing Authority (NHA), a group of 77 disabled communities, and the business community for assessments.
The Houston Port will focus on four areas: capacity building, security framework, passenger transportation framework, and infrastructure development. The Houston Port has also had an agreement for technical and human resource assistance to the ports of Liberia.
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Shipping Corporations Were Fined $10.4 Million for Environmental Crimes on Four Ships

Last week  the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in New Jersey and Delaware, the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Coast Guard announced that two shipping firms based in Germany and Cyprus pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice charges and violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships related to the deliberate concealment of vessel pollution from four ships that visited U.S. ports in New Jersey, Delaware and Northern California.

The plea agreement  includes a $10.4 million penalty, $2.6 million of which will be used address environmental damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Columbia Shipmanagement (Deutschland) GmbH (CSM-D), a German corporation, and Columbia Shipmanagement Ltd. (CSM-CY), a Cypriot compan will be placed on probation time for four year, during which  the companies will be subject to the terms of an environmental compliance program that requires outside audits by an independent company and oversight by a court appointed monitor.  The shipping firms admitted that four of their ships (three oil tankers and one container ship) had intentionally bypassed required pollution prevention equipment and falsified the oil record book, a required log regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.  The case is the largest vessel pollution settlement in either New Jersey or Delaware. The guilty pleas were entered before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton in Newark federal court. Sentencing is set for June 24, 2013.

The investigation into the M/T King Emerald was launched on May 7, 2012, after several crew members provided cell phone photos and other evidence to Coast Guard officers conducting a routine inspection.  The King Emerald was engaged in various types of illegal discharges of bilge waste dating back to at least 2010.  In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted that illegal discharges of both sludge and oily bilge waste were discharged at night off the coast of Central America, including a discharge within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Costa Rica where a national park is located.  The ship’s second engineer pleaded guilty previously and will be sentenced in Newark on April 3, 2013.

The Delaware investigation began in October 2012, after several crew members of the M/T Nordic Passat provided the Coast Guard with a thumb drive containing photographs and video showing how illegal discharges had been sent overboard through the ship’s sewage system.  They also alleged that sludge had been put into the ship’s cargo tanks and that logs showing sludge had been incinerated onboard had been falsified.  The charges involving the M/V Cape Maas stem from a whistleblower report to the Coast Guard when the ship visited the port in San Francisco.  He provided a video showing the operation of the oily water separator pumping overboard without the use of the oil content monitor to detect and prevent oil from being illegally discharged.

This prosecution was made possible through the combined efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard Districts 1, 5 and 11, Coast Guard Sectors New York, Delaware Bay, and San Francisco, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law, and the Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Analysis.

More details about this case can be found at The United States Attorney’s Office Press Release 

 

Longshoremen reach tentative deal with NY/NJ ports employees

According to the officials, a tentative six-year agreement  has been reached between local shipping companies and the union representing 4,500 longshoremen at the Port of New York and New Jersey. A spokesman for the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) confirmed there was a deal with port terminal operators and shippers,

“We are happy to announce that NYSA and the ILA have successfully concluded local contract negotiations on a six-year deal and have produced a settlement that both sides agree will protect ILA members into the future and will allow NYSA-member shippers and carriers to remain competitive in the marketplace,” the ILA and NYSA said in a joint statement, which followed four days of intense negotiations.

The deal that has been reached was significant because it is part of larger talks between the ILA, which represents 14,500 dock workers at 15 ports on the East and Gulf coasts, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) of shippers, terminal operators and port authorities.  As we have advised before, a tentative dea for a new master contract was reached on February 1st. However the master contract is also contingent on the ability of workers to reach additional agreements for individual ports, where work rules and other local issues still have to be hammered out. Those talks are ongoing.

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ILA Master Contract Extension

Officials report the International Longshoremen’s Association and U.S. Maritime Alliance have reached a tentative agreement for a new six-year master contract. The new master contact averts a Feb. 7 work stoppage and keeps 14 U.S. ports from Maine to Texas open for business.

George H. Cohen, director of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service – which had been assisting the two sides in contract talks- said “the tentative agreement is subject to the ratification procedures of both parties and, as well, to agreements being achieved in a number of local union negotiations.”

As Cohen said, those local negotiations are ongoing and won’t interrupt any port operation. The local talks will concern issues unique to each port. For example, the 3,300 workers at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, who account for slightly more than 20 percent of the union’s 14,500 members, are concerned about preserving language giving them exclusive authority to repair and maintain chassis equipment provisioned there. However, that is a minor issue for ILA workers at ports in Charleston and Savannah.

If the ILA and the NYSA don’t reach an agreement in the local dispute, the port could shut down, said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation.

RCL Agencies Inc. will continue to monitor the situation and will continue to provide you with timely updates.