John Bowers, president of the International Longshoremen's Association, hopes American Transport Lines' addition of Norfolk to its South American service port rotation is a precursor to eventual AmTrans service to New York and other ILA ports.

AmTrans, a subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corp., added Norfolk last month as a regular port of call in its weekly service between the United States and Panama, Venezuela and the east coast of South America.The Norfolk addition is the first entry into an ILA port by a Crowley company since Crowley and the union ended their longstanding differences last year with an agreement pledging Crowley subsidiaries to employ the ILA at any port into which they expand while maintaining their labor ties to the Teamsters and Seafarers unions at their existing ports.

AmTrans has been quietly employing ILA gangs at Charleston, S.C., since the company's initial European service was launched in the spring of 1986, however.

In addition to the weekly calls, AmTrans has established an office at the Virginia Port Authority's Norfolk International Terminal and hired ICL Agencies Inc. as sales agent for the states of Virginia and North Carolina.

According to a prepared statement by John E. Douglass, vice president and general manager of AmTrans' South American service, the company determined a need existed for U.S.-flag direct service at Norfolk.

The need definitely exists and it appears a viable addition to our itinerary while maintaining our weekly schedule, Mr. Douglass said.

Being able to add Norfolk without disrupting the existing schedule was the key, according to AmTrans spokeswoman Lucille Lane, who noted that was made possible by the addition of a sixth vessel to AmTrans' South American fleet.

She said the Sea Merchant matches up well with two other AmTrans ships with capacities to carry up to 1,300 20-foot containers and travel at speeds up to 18 knots.

AmTrans also deploys three Sea Wolf-class ships, with capacities for nearly 2,100 20-foot containers, in the service, which also calls at Pennsauken, N.J., near Philadelphia, and Jacksonville, Fla.

A fortnightly call at Port Everglades, Fla., appears likely in the near future.

John Covaney, senior managing director-marketing services at the Virginia Port Authority, said no contract between the port authority and AmTrans was signed guaranteeing a specified volume of cargo, but the new service represents a growing opportunity for both of us.

Mr. Covaney said he believes what sold AmTrans on Norfolk was the port's close proximity to the sea lanes compared with other mid-Atlantic ports, plus the VPA's successful market penetration into South America for such commodities as automobiles, auto parts and tobacco.

But the decision to bring AmTrans to Norfolk may not have been made had not meetings gone well between AmTrans and ILA officials, Mr. Bowers said.

The ILA president said AmTrans executives informed him of their interest in Norfolk and he suggested they meet with Ed Brown, ILA vice president in Norfolk.

Those meetings proved successful, with AmTrans assuring the union of the line's intention to offer a quality service to Hampton Roads and the ILA pledging to provide the level of productivity AmTrans was seeking, Mr. Bowers said.

Those meetings are similar to discussions the ILA is conducting now with Crowley executives in an attempt to bring AmTrans to New York, either by lowering labor costs to a point competitive with Pennsauken or by convincing Crowley that the cost of trucking cargo between New York and Pennsauken offsets the latter's lower labor costs.

Although Mr. Bowers is pleased AmTrans is calling at Norfolk, I'll be happy when everything is under the ILA.

Everything, of course, includes New York, without which Mr. Bowers said a ship line can't have a good operation.

At the same time, he said he realizes a line cannot have a good operation if it is not competitive. Therefore, productivity is the key for the ILA, which plans to exhibit its willingness to be flexible to employers and potential employers who have been invited to the union's executive council meeting in Tampa March 24.