Longshore labor and employers on the East and Gulf coasts are urging the Texas Legislature to reject two bills that would enshrine the Port of Houston’s decision on April 12 to limit calls of mega-ships to one weekly, warning of a “devastating” impact on the port and the larger industry.
The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), which reached a six-year master contract in September that covered the two coasts, said the legislation would reverse and then crush economic growth at port. Container volume through the port, the seventh-largest in North America, jumped 10.3 percent in 2018, and resins exports are expected to accelerate in the second half of the year.
The two bills, filed March 8, were triggered by concern among non-container port users that the ever-growing container ships calling the port are disrupting the ability of other vessels to come and go in an efficient manner. Non-container vessel operators and users say the increasing size of container ships, and the narrowness of the channel, means that other ships are sometimes restricted from using the channel because container ships are so large no other vessel can occupy the channel.
One of the bills would allow the port’s board of pilots to impose one-way traffic in the port’s channel to once a week — but no more — and would prevent large vessels from entering and leaving the port in the same day.
Under the legislation, only one vessel larger than 1,100 feet long — equating to approximately 9,500 TEU in capacity — can call the port a week. The port pilots have said that to ensure safety, no vessel can share the narrow channel with a large vessel. The pilots have since relaxed that rule somewhat so that a second vessel can be in the channel in certain circumstances.
The second bill would effectively eliminate the port’s board of pilots in favor of a new, seven-member body that would operate independently from the Port of Houston Authority.
Unlike the current board, which is made up entirely of commissioners from the port authority, members of the new board would be appointed by county and city agencies.
The legislation would relax the limit of one ship in the channel if at least 80 percent of the pilots agreed that it was safe. The port authority has opposed the legislation, and 10 days ago authorized its staff to work with legislators to change the bills. The commission says that putting the limitations on big vessels into law would make the restrictions too inflexible and make them unable to respond to the rapidly changing conditions in the port.