Horizon Hit With Investor Lawsuit: Horizon Lines said it will "vigorously defend" itself against a securities class-action lawsuit related to alleged price-fixing in its Puerto Rican shipping operations. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware, alleges that Horizon made "material misstatements and omissions." Federal agents raided the headquarters of Horizon, Sea Star Line and Crowley Maritime as part of an investigation of pricing practices of ocean carriers operating in Puerto Rico. In addition to the antitrust investigation, the companies and a fourth Puerto Rico carrier, Trailer Bridge, are targets of civil antitrust suits filed on behalf of customers. Five former company officials -- three from Horizon and two from Sea Star -- have pleaded guilty and agreed to prison terms for antitrust violations.
Customs Tightens Canadian Inspections: Customs and Border Protection will put into effect a new protocol for inspecting Canadian fruits and vegetables that the agency says may cause an increase in hold and inspection rates for those commodities. Customs said it created the protocol to enforce increased inspection requirements set out by the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. In March 2007, APHIS removed the exemption that Canadian fruits and vegetables had from border-inspection requirements. At the time, the agency said it lifted the exemption because of evidence that banned imports from other countries were being shipped to Canada for transshipment to the United States. Along with the change in policy, Customs began charging inspection fees from which Canadian produce had been exempt. According to Assistant Commissioner Thomas Winkowski, the new protocol "may cause a noticeable increase in the hold and inspection rate of Canadian-grown fruits and vegetables."
Montreal Traffic Grew In 2008: The Port of Montreal finished last year with what's expected to be a record 1,460,500 TEUs of container traffic, a 7.2 percent increase, said Patrice Pelletier, port president and CEO. He said that was "an exceptional result achieved despite the economic slowdown that affected us during the last two months of 2008." He said he expects container tonnage to decline 3.7 percent this year. Pelletier spoke at the annual ceremony presenting a gold-headed cane to the new year's first ship arriving at Montreal from Europe, the London-chartered Maersk Patras, which called at 12:03 a.m. on Jan. 1. In an interview, he cited Montreal's relative proximity to Europe as well as its links to the industrial heart of North America, saying Montreal is just as much "the port for Chicago."
San Diego Names Port Director: Charles D. Wurster, a former Coast Guard vice admiral, has been hired as president and chief executive of the San Diego Unified Port District. Wurster, 59, served 37 years in the Coast Guard before retiring last May as commander of the Pacific Area. He succeeds Bruce Hollingsworth, who announced plans to retire in September after nearly six years leading the port district, and 24 years with the port in total. Wurster, whose appointment took effect on Jan. 6, will earn $200,000 per year. He was approved by the Board of Port Commissioners from among 80 applicants. The port said Wurster will work with Hollingsworth during a 30-day transition period. Wurster received a master's degree in civil engineering in 1976 from the University of Illinois. He graduated with honors in 1971 from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. He lives in San Diego with his wife and has two grown children.
Antwerp Volume Rises: Container volume through Antwerp increased 6 percent in 2008, consolidating the Belgian port's third-place ranking among European container ports and closing the gap with its bigger rivals Rotterdam and Hamburg. Volume totaled just over 8.6 million TEUs, compared with a stagnant 10.8 million TEUs in neighboring Rotterdam, Europe's top container port. Second-ranked Hamburg also is expected to report flat traffic for 2008. Antwerp's container traffic slowed in the fourth quarter because of the global economic downturn and likely will remain weak in the first three months of 2009, the Antwerp Port Authority said. Breakbulk cargo in 2008 plunged 15 percent to just under 17 million tons after a strong 2007 that was driven by Asian steel imports. Steel shipments fell 14.1 percent to 10.5 million tons, while forest products declined 18 percent to 2.7 million tons.
Maersk Expands Espreso Service: Maersk Line will add a fourth vessel and three ports of call to its weekly north-south Espreso service linking the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. New calls will be at Mobile, Ala.; Progreso, Mexico; and Belize City, Belize. The new port rotation will be Manzanillo, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Puerto Limon, Puerto Cortes, Santo Tomas, Mobile, New Orleans, Houston, Progreso, Santo Tomas, Belize, Puerto Cortes and Manzanillo. The first Mobile call is scheduled for Jan. 22, and the first Progreso call is scheduled for Jan. 30. The Espreso service will be the third container service to call at the Alabama State Port Authority's new Mobile Container Terminal, after Zim Integrated Shipping Services' Asia-Gulf Express and CMA CGM's PEX 3, both Far East services.
Stefflre To Chair IANA: Greg Stefflre, chief executive of Rail Delivery Services, has been elected 2009 chairman of the Intermodal Association of North America. Stefflre succeeds Theodore Prince, principal of T. Prince & Associates LLC. Stefflre is in his eighth year on IANA's board.