Rafael Quesada spent nine years at sea and saw his share of bad storms, including one off the East Coast of Africa that caused his heavily laden ship to twist in heavy seas.
But the young executive vice president, who helped start Overseas Transport International Corp. in March, says life aboard the vessel is child's play compared with the responsibility of running the operating company."After a bad storm at sea, you have some hot chocolate, relax, finish the trip and go on vacation," he says. "But here all the storms follow you when you go to sleep. You can't get away."
OTI started eight months ago with a direct service between New York and Rio Haina, a port about one hour from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The line's first ship, which flew the West German flag and had a capacity of 181 20-foot equivalent units, was replaced in October by the 256-TEU
Esperanza, which also flies the West German flag.
In New York the line calls at Maher Terminals. The service has a fortnightly frequency, although Mr. Quesada says this could be upgraded to a weekly service early next year if cargo demand is strong enough.
OTI is a subsidiary of the Hemarsa Co., a large diversified mining and construction firm based in Buenos Aires. This is the first experience in shipping for the Maurizzio family, which owns Hemarsa.
Mr. Quesada says OTI's first few voyages met with a weak response that is often the case with a start-up operation. But the firm was able to break even after five voyages, and volumes have been growing since August. Mr. Quesada says shippers have appreciated the line's punctual, reliable service and the effect its entrance has had on prices in the trade.
Conference carriers, including Trailer Marine Transport, Navieras de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Maritime Shipping Authority and Sea-Land Service, responded to the new independent line by lowering their rates dramatically, Mr. Quesada says. Shippers have been appreciative and supported OTI with cargo. He says the independent's rates are approximately 5 percent below existing conference levels.
Rick Shannon, president of Exchange Transport International Inc., OTI's U.S. general agent based in Jersey City, N.J., says the southbound trade has been very strong and the northbound market is starting to pick up. OTI's status as the only direct, independent service between New York and the Dominican Republic should allow it to capture at least 20 percent of the market over the next two years, he predicts.
OTI, which uses Maritima Henriques as general agent in the Dominican Republic, hopes to capitalize on the seasonally strong northbound December-to- Ma y refrigerated container market growing out of the country's fruits and vegetable harvests. Cocoa, coffee and some dry goods also are carried northbound.
Cargo moving in the southbound direction include household goods, automobiles and machinery.
OTI says it expects the new government of Joaquin Balaguel, elected earlier this year, to loosen trade restrictions and open markets to more import and export goods.
Mr. Quesada says the line has several advantages over its competitors. Its direct service and five-day transit saves time. OTI's non-conference status allows OTI to respond quickly and avoid the cumbersome mechanics of a rate- making group.
OTI is also a small company without the layers of bureaucracy and paperwork found in larger firms. The line has a staff of six, excluding agency and deep-sea employees and the offices in Jersey City are bare-bones.
The company has a strong equipment management operation, he contends. Equipment is about three years old on average and is well maintained by the line's own technicians. The line says it has no plans to extend its scope beyond the Dominican Republic.
Mr. Quesada says he has been accused of being crazy for starting a shipping company in today's environment. But he says the experience is invaluable and can be a true test of one's management abilities.
"If you can make it in this business, you can make it in any other business because this really is tough," he says.