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FROM OUR CORRESPONDENTNORTH AMERICA


Any automatic mechanism across the board fails to take into consideration that there is a vast difference in the service levels and mentality at ports. Some are very proactive and accommodating and try to help move projects through their facilities, while others are doing a remarkably good job at giving the impression that they view project work as a nuisance and would shift to a pure container operation tomorrow if they could. Moreover, there are questions about the value for money that US ports offer today – especially the big ports on the West Coast. According to one study, US ports lag behind their rivals in Europe and Asia by a rather amazing margin. The Center for Ports and Waterways of the A&M University in Texas found that the ports of Rotterdam and Shanghai use fewer than five dockworkers to do what it takes 20 to do in the USA.


High pay


The cost implications are huge. Dockworkers are among the highest paid blue-collar workers in the USA. The average American dockworker takes home more


There are questions about the value for money that US ports offer compared with European and Asian ports.


than USD115,000 a year.


This situation alone makes future clashes over labour costs inevitable. Most operators are bracing themselves for more labour disputes with crippling strike action, which is bound to take a heavy toll on business. When some 800 office workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach resorted to industrial action last December, the estimated cost of the strike, which ran for a little over a week, was in the neighbourhood of USD1 billion a day.


While the ports in California are trying to secure automatic annual fee increases, a strong push is playing out at the other end of the country to eliminate certain fees. At issue is the cargo facilities charge that the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey implemented in March of 2011 to pay for road and infrastructure improvements as well as for security- related costs.


The fee has been under heavy fire from shipping companies, which claim they have been unable to pass it on to their customers and therefore ended up swallowing millions of dollars in costs. The cargo facility charge, which is assessed on freight when it is loaded or discharged, is


116 July/August 2013


USD4.95 per teu, USD 1.11 per vehicle, or 13 cents per tonne for bulk or heavy lift cargo. In June the issue took a political turn when a US senator formally proposed legislation to scrap the fee. All of this is not to question the economic necessity for ports to raise more money. The American Association of Port Authorities has repeatedly stressed that more investment is needed to maintain and improve the transportation infrastructure on the three US coasts and the Great Lakes, and most vessel operators as well as their clients would agree with this.


Still, a blanket approach leaves a rather bad taste. Most project operators can readily name ports that show a proactive and supportive stance to project cargo coming through their facilities, and others that appear to be interested in container traffic only.


Routing decisions


However, since ports are only one element along the chain, these differences may well end up counting for nothing. As one forwarder pointed out, routing decisions are not taken purely on the strength of the service level and charges at individual ports, so these issues with charges and funding are unlikely to have a significant impact on the routing of project cargo.


A much bigger factor will be the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is nearing completion. This is all about container vessels; nevertheless there are considerable ramifications for project cargo. As one forwarder pointed out, the tough business climate has prompted a growing number of container lines to adopt a more accommodating stance towards project cargo. “More and more container carriers are willing to look at oversize cargo. This will give us some opportunities not to rely purely on breakbulk and conventional carriers,” he commented. HLPFI


www.heavyliftpfi.com


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