Ship agents study offer by bay pilots for rate compromise


The agents representing shipowners in the port of Baltimore are considering a compromise agreement with the bay pilots that could speed approval of the pilot's pending rate request before the Public Service Commission.

On Wednesday, members of the Maryland Maritime Association, which represents steamship agents in the port, were asked to agree to a "stipulation" giving their approval to rate increases of 9 percent this year, 9 percent in 1992 and 7 percent for 1993. That compares with the approximately 10 percent increase in each of the three years the Association of Maryland Pilots wants the state Public Service Commission to approve.

The proposed compromise was submitted to the agents by the group's president, Roy A. Schleicher. He could not be reached yesterday, and it was unclear what percentage of the membership had agreed to the compromise. There was some evidence, however, that a substantial number opposed the compromise, preferring to leave the issue entirely up to the PSC.

Philippe Masiee, vice president of W. J. Browning Co. Inc., a ship agency, said he was told by Mr. Schleicher on Thursday that the membership was split on the issue. Mr. Masiee said he felt that agents could not agree to any increase on their own, since the shipowners, not their agents, are the ones who would end up paying the bills.

The pilots -- about 80 locally -- guide big ships through the system of channels connecting the port of Baltimore with the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to the north.

The message sent by Mr. Schleicher to his membership implied that the outline of an agreement had been worked out with the pilots. The message read, "To accept this the pilots will require that we sign a stipulation. . . . They want an answer tonight as Mike Watson is going on a two-week vacation."

Captain Watson is the president of the pilots' association. He said yesterday that no offer had been extended by the agents following circulation of Mr. Schleicher's message and that the pilots were still pushing their case before the PSC. "I've made my filing" to the PSC, he said. "Barring any big change, the filing will stand."

He declined to categorize his discussions with the agents as negotiations, but he did say he has met with the agents and other port groups to explain what the pilots feel they need. "I continue to talk with everybody," he said.

Mr. Schleicher's message to his members stated that the Steamship Trade Association Inc., the other big group representing maritime businesses in the port, had also been asked to agree to the compromise. Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Even if port businesses and the pilots were to reach an understanding, the PSC would still have to decide whether to grant the increase, Gregory Carmean, the PSC's executive director, said yesterday.

It is not uncommon for the parties in a rate case to reach some sort of agreement.

That opens the door for the commission to give rapid approval, if it chooses, to the terms agreed to by the affected parties, thereby eliminating the need for complicated and potentially contentious hearings.

"It saves the litigation expenses and removes the risks for the parties. At least you have a settlement where you know exactly where you stand," Mr. Carmean said.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Aug. 22. Those who want to take part have to notify the PSC by July 31.

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