RUSSIAN SHIP LINE LOOKING TO EXPAND TO CALIFORNIA PORTS

RUSSIAN SHIP LINE LOOKING TO EXPAND TO CALIFORNIA PORTS

Russian cargo ships would begin calling in California as early as May under a plan being considered by Far Eastern Shipping Co.

Alexander D. Buriy, director for the Vladivostok-based ship line, known as Fesco, said the Russian company wants to establish scheduled calls at major West Coast ports as quickly as possible. He spoke as a Fesco ship docked at the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, the first Russian cargo ship to call at a U.S. West Coast port in a decade.The speed with which Fesco re-establishes U.S. service will depend on how fast it can identify and redeploy ships from other services to high-demand regions on the West Coast, he said.

Cargo recipients in Los Angeles already are pressing Fesco to announce regular schedules in connection with shipments from southeast Asia to Los Angeles, he said. Fesco isn't certain it will have a full complement of ships available that quickly but tentatively is planning to accept bookings for a call in May.

Mr. Buriy made his comments in an interview aboard the Pervomaysk, the first Russian cargo ship to call the West Coast since President Reagan allowed the former U.S.-Soviet maritime agreement to expire on Dec. 31, 1981. Shippers, agents, Grays Harbor port officials and Fesco executives toasted the return of the Russian ships with cognac and vodka over a traditional Russian dinner aboard ship.

The Pervomaysk also was the last Soviet ship to leave U.S. waters 10 years ago.

Mr. Buriy said a number of U.S. shipping executives have asked him about Fesco's overall strategy to recapture its former role on the Pacific. But Mr. Buriy said Fesco doesn't plan to engage in highly aggressive tactics or to undercut rates.

"We want to operate with normal commercial practices," he said.

Fesco confirmed that it will make a second ship call at Grays Harbor next month, then evaluate the costs of using Grays Harbor against projected costs for use of ports at Tacoma, Olympia or Vancouver, Wash.

Cliff Muller, port director for Grays Harbor, told Mr. Buriy that Grays Harbor would go out of its way to keep the Fesco business. He urged Fesco to make Grays Harbor a regular call.

Most of the cargo loaded onto the Pervomaysk this week was breakbulk commodities, but shipments also included the first containers ever moved through Grays Harbor.

Jim Manenica, a member of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, said Grays Harbor cranes can handle a few containers mixed with breakbulk cargo, but would be too slow for larger-scale container operations.