The Golden Fleece

We noted this brief announcement in The Baltimore Sun on July 17th:

“Seagirt operator’s contract extended”

“The Board of Public Works awarded Ports America yesterday a $ 41.6 million one-year contract extension to operate Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore through October 2009. Ports America is an arm of AIG Global Investment Group, which bought P&O Ports from the Dubai government in March 2007. It is paid by the Maryland Port Administration to provide stevedores to load and unload ships that dock at its public container terminal. About 72 percent of the Ports America contract is paid out to the International Longshoremen’s Association to cover labor costs, the MPA said.”

Almost three years ago to the day, Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation, Mr. Robert L. Flanagan arranged for us to meet with personnel at Baltimore’s Seagirt Terminal. There were at least a half-dozen men attending the meeting, but the executive director, we noticed, wasn’t one of them.

At that meeting we offered to build our patented system (1,000,000 TEU) at our own expense, on approximately 35 acres of the port’s property – and we proposed to operate that facility at our own expense as well. We offered to lease the acreage at $ 125,000 per acre per year, and we included an offer to pay an additional $ 10 fee to the port for every container we handled.

We never got a response or an acknowledgment of any kind regarding our proposal because the numbers, apparently, didn’t seem attractive enough for those in attendance.

Isn’t it strange, however, that an internationally known firm would appear subsequently – build nothing – lease nothing – and pay nothing – yet receive a $ 41.6 million contract extension to operate this same terminal for one year?

The announcement in The Baltimore Sun made no mention of any financial gain the port and the Maryland taxpayers could expect from this contractual arrangement. But haven’t we been led to believe that container terminals are nothing less than gold mines? Wasn’t it Mr. Wilson Lacy, the Port of Oakland’s Maritime Director, who told the authorities at the Port of Humboldt Bay (Cf. Vol. X, Art. 1) that “container terminals are the gold mine of today”?

The MPA, we noted, didn’t fail to advise the taxpayers that “72% of the Ports America contract will be paid out to the International Longshoremen’s Association to cover labor costs,” but we also noted that the MPA failed to say who would be getting the rest of the haul from the “gold mine”.

Maybe those in the MPA don’t care. Maybe they’re perfectly satisfied with their weekly paychecks, so why rock the boat? Sheep, after all, don’t seem to mind being fleeced … and besides, what they don’t know won’t hurt us.