Mr. Tommy Stramer, (R.I.P.)

“The ‘National Crisis'” was the title we gave to our Vol. II, Art. 14 commentary. We covered Mr. Tommy Stramer’s thoughtful response to a Journal of Commerce survey, undoubtedly seen, but unfortunately ignored, by millions of JOC readers. We saw fit to repeat his advice, however.

“Mr. Tommy Stramer, President of Zim American Integrated Shipping Services Co., looks at this crisis in the U.S. transportation system and lays it right on the line when he states:

“‘I hope there will be changes during 2005, namely in the infrastructure of the U.S. ports and the railways. If changes can be made in such a way as to allow a higher turnover of containers in the ports – coupled with the ability to transport these boxes to inland destinations – then our industry will survive. Otherwise, we are going to see ports, more so on the West Coast of the U.S., but also on the East Coast, approach the point where cargo will not be able to go through them, ships will wait outside, schedules will no longer be maintained, and the new ships of 8,000-TEUs-plus will be just another white elephant in the industry.

“‘So what are the changes that need to be made? We must find a way to build more terminals on the West Coast. We must find a solution for the environmental problem and deal with it. There will be more all-water strings to the U.S., which will mean heavier pressure on East Coast ports. A way must also be found to build more terminals there.

“‘To build more railways is a project for more than a year or two. Every year the U.S. is importing more containers, with exports on the rise as well. Therefore, without significant changes in the infrastructure, the American people will have to adjust their buying habits by reducing their standard of living or by buying more domestic products – products that will reflect the increased cost.

“‘If I sound a bit pessimistic, it is because I am. We must achieve improvements in port and transport infrastructure.’ So there you have it, from an observer with a more objective point of view.

“Mr. Stramer should be our company’s PR man. He places heavy emphasis on the need for a higher turnover of containers in the ports – a distinct advantage provided by our patented automated system. He cites the needed capability to transport these boxes to inland destinations – another distinct advantage provided by our innovative delivery system. He says we must find a way to build more terminals on the West Coast and on the East Coast – a simple matter in our case because no additional space would be required when retrofitting our space-creating systems within existing sites.”

Mr. Stramer offered those prophetic words early in 2004, and we intend to repeat them from time to time, first, because he saw back then what maritime officials have yet to understand, and also because he is no longer with us. He passed away on July 29th, and we intend to memorialize him as often as we feel the need to do so. Officials throughout the industry have expressed sorrow at his passing, but they’ll be even sorrier when they realize how stupid they were to ignore his sage advice.