Military cargo returning from the Middle East is starting to ZTC trickle through the Port of Baltimore, giving a small, but welcome, boost to laborers and ship lines.
Meanwhile, U.S. products have begun to flow out of the port to help with efforts to rebuild Kuwait.
Three ships loaded with equipment to suppress oil fires have left the port on United Arab Shipping Co. vessels in the past six weeks. On July 12, NOSAC lines will be loading a ship with trucks, cars and other machinery bound for Kuwait. And lines that run regular service to Kuwait and the Middle East report that business is good on those routes.
But shipping lines say they could not attribute the business to the agreement signed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the ambassador of Kuwait in early May to promote the use of the port for shipments to Kuwait.
"We heard about the deal signed between Maryland and Kuwait and we thought it would do our ship some good, but so far it hasn't," says Morten Neraas, assistant vice president of marketing with NOSAC, a Norwegian shipping company with U.S. headquarters in Baltimore. He says the business resulted from trade agreements that area companies reached on their own with Kuwait.
The military cargo returning through the port is a good sign for port officials, who lamented being left in the cold when troops and hardware were being shipped to the Middle East.
Michael P. Angelos, president of Maryland International Terminals, which operates the Seagirt Marine Terminal, says eight Military Sealift Command vessels have brought military cargo to the port in the last two months. Six of the vessels were from the Middle East and two were from Northern Europe.
They were bringing supplies back to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County as well as military bases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Arizona. The cargo to the Arizona base was a special coup because Baltimore was chosen over other ports that are closer to the base.
Angelos says two more military cargo shipments are due this month.
The shipments so far have created 10,000 hours of work for union laborers at the port.
Ed Burke, president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 333, says the hours are only a slight step toward regaining the hours worked in the early 1980s, but "Every little bit helps."
In the early 1980s, longshoremen worked about 6 million hours eachyear at the port. That number now is between 2.5 million and 3 million hours, Burke says.
Angelos says he has received no firm projection of how much military cargo will return through the port, but the shipments so far are a marked improvement over the military business the port received when the Desert Storm operation was launched last August.
Little or no military cargo was shipped through Baltimore becauseauthorities were shipping cargo from ports closer to the military bases. "Their objective was getting it out as fast as possible," says Trip Bailey, director of operations for the port.
Bailey says that now the government is looking at cost rather than speed and proximity to military bases. Baltimore has an edge because its costs are competitive and it is farther inland than other deep-water ports, he says.