The outgoing head of the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) said that shippers must bear the full responsibility of complying with maritime law requiring that the accurate weight of an ocean container and its contents be certified in writing before the box is loaded aboard a vessel.
Separately, Curtis J. Foltz said he is unlikely to accept another port director's position once he steps down as executive director of the GPA on June 30, down when the port authority's fiscal year ends. In an interview yesterday, Foltz, 55, said he would return to the private sector, where he spent his entire career before joining GPA in 2004 as chief operating officer. GPA owns and operates the container port of Savannah, the bulk and breakbulk port of Brunswick, and the inland terminals of Bainbridge and Columbus. Foltz became executive director in January 2010.
Foltz's comments about the contentious issue of certifying the "verified gross mass" of containers comes as the Federal Maritime Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard prepared this afternoon to convene an extraordinary "listening session" with stakeholders to discuss the impact of the amendment to the 102-year-old Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) international treaty administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The provision, scheduled to take effect July 1, requires shippers to certify in writing the weight of a container and its cargo, or else the box will not be loaded. A shipper and terminal operator would face massive legal liability if a ship was sunk or damaged and it was discovered that a container aboard the vessel had not been certified in writing. The language, which holds the force of law in the IMO's 171 member countries, was adopted as a result of concerns that seagoing ships were being damaged due to illegally or improperly loaded containers.
In the interview, Foltz dismissed claims by a lobby for U.S. agricultural and forest-products exporters that shippers cannot expect to accurately assess the weight of the container when they don't control the equipment. "You find me a shipper that doesn't know what they're putting into the container, and what the density and weight of the shipment is, and that person shouldn't be shipping goods," Foltz said.
The shipper lobby said its members should only be responsible for certifying the weight of the goods. However, Foltz said shippers know the specifics of their shipments better than anyone, and should be the parties responsible for certifying the total weight.
Foltz acknowledged that global maritime authorities have not been clear in articulating who is responsible for certifying the total container weight and how the program will be administered. Terminal operators have said they don't have the space in their facilities for scales, and the U.S. exporter lobby has claimed that the technology doesn't exists to facilitate the transmission of relevant container weight data among the various stakeholders.
Foltz said that no one port or region stands to benefit, because the provision is being applied on a global scale. The U.S. exporter lobby has urged the Coast Guard, which is responsible for implementing the provision, to hold off until the U.S.' top 15 trading partners have adopted the language as well.
Foltz, who held numerous executive positions at CSX World Terminals, the former Sea-Land Service Inc. steamship carrier, and truckers Overnite Transportation and McLean Trucking, said he joined GPA for "any number of reasons." He declined to specify them, other than to laud the state of Georgia for its deep understanding of the role that transportation, logistics, and maritime play in accelerating commercial and economic development, and for raising the competitiveness of the Southeast U.S. "Georgia gets it," he said.
Foltz announced his departure from GPA on Feb. 3. He will be succeeded by Griff Lynch, GPA's current COO. Foltz will serve as a consultant to GPA in an undetermined capacity for one year after his departure, the state agency said.
Savannah's Garden City Terminal is the country's fourth busiest, and the busiest single-terminal container facility in the U.S. Despite its relatively shallow water depth of 42 feet, Garden City has become a huge success. That's due largely to its strong landside operation, which includes the largest cluster of import distribution centers on the East Coast; on-deck access to the two large Eastern railroads, CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp.; and close proximity to Interstate 95, running north to south, and I-16, running east to west. The facility is the second-largest exporter in the U.S., exceeded only by the Port of Los Angeles.
The GPA, which has fought for years to get approval and funding to deepen its channel to 47 feet, expects work to be completed on the project by 2017. Foltz said the additional depth is badly needed to efficiently accommodate the influx of megavessels—those with container-carrying capacity of 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) or more.