Carriers Seek Delay Of NVO Decision: A group of ocean carriers is asking the Federal Maritime Commission to delay a ruling on whether non-vessel-operating common carriers should be allowed to sign confidential contracts with shippers. The World Shipping Council, which represents more than 40 ocean carriers, last week filed comments with the agency in response to an Aug. 3 NVO petition that pressed the FMC for an expedited ruling. "WSC believes that it is appropriate for the commission to allow interested parties a reasonable amount of time to reply to the substance of the supplemental comments," the carriers said in their filing. The council wants until at least Sept. 30 to reply to the NVOs' supplemental comments, which include proposed language for providing conditional exemption from tariff publication. UPS in July 2003 became the first NVO to file a petition seeking the same contracting rights granted to vessel operators under the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. Other petitions followed. The Aug. 3 NVO letter was signed by BAX Global, BDP International, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, FedEx Trade Networks Transport & Brokerage, the National Industrial Transportation League, the Transportation Intermediaries Association and UPS.

Relief On The Way In Rotterdam: ECT, Rotter-dam's largest container terminal operator, is adding equipment and staff in an effort to alleviate congestion that is forcing container ships to wait up to 24 hours to dock. ECT last week introduced the first of nine new gantry cranes. Two more are scheduled to arrive by the end of the year, with the rest coming online in 2005. The terminal operator, which handles nearly 70 percent of Rotterdam's container traffic, also is hiring 120 dockworkers and has urged its work force to work more overtime to clear the backlog of cargo. The growing congestion in Rotterdam has prompted calls by shipping lines and shippers for vessels to be diverted to neighboring Amsterdam, which has yet to find a client for its main Ceres Paragon container terminal.

IBM Unit Acquires Maersk Data: A.P. Moller-Maersk has agreed to sell its Maersk Data subsidiary to the Danish unit of IBM. Terms were not disclosed. Moller said it is selling Maersk Data because the division would face difficulties meeting Moller's growing requirement for global IT solutions without making considerable investments and acquisitions. Maersk Data provides IT services to the global shipping, logistics, aviation and shipbuilding sectors. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval.

Bush Pledges $15 million For Oregon Dredging: President Bush, on a campaign swing through the battleground state of Oregon, pledged $15 million to begin dredging of a key stretch of the Columbia River serving six ports, including the Port of Portland. The announcement represents something of a turnaround for the administration, which has been reluctant to fully fund its share of the $148.4 million project to deepen the navigation channel to 43 feet. The project has languished for some 14 years amid funding battles and environmental challenges. To date, only $10 million in federal funds have been appropriated for the project. The 103.5-mile, 40-foot-deep channel is a lifeline for six river ports - Portland and St. Helens, Ore.; and Kalama, Longview, Vancouver and Woodland, Wash. The Columbia-Snake River system is the second-largest grain-export system in the world. A major problem confronting the ports has been that many sections of the channel are too shallow to accommodate larger, deep-draft vessels. Hyundai Merchant Marine and "K" Line announced recently that they will leave the port later this year, though both attributed the moves to service realignments not related to channel depths. The defections will leave Hanjin Shipping Co. as the only container carrier calling the port.

Seaway Traffic Surges: Cargo volume through the St. Lawrence Seaway in the January-July period hit a five-year high on surging bulk shipments and a recent uptick in ocean traffic. Total cargo volume increased 11.5 percent in the period, to 19.0 million metric tons. Grain shipments reached 3.55 million tons, up 15.5 percent from a year earlier, despite a 2 percent decline in U.S. grain traffic. Iron ore shipments through the Welland Canal from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario jumped 17.5 percent to 3.6 million tons, overcoming a flat performance through the Montreal-Lake Ontario segment of the Seaway. Coal shipments fell slightly, but other bulk commodities, including petroleum, potash, scrap metal and chemicals, increased by 17.2 percent through the two sections. Vessel transits increased from 1,621 to 1,884.

Singapore Air Boosts US Services: Singapore Airlines Cargo, aided by the addition of a new Boeing 747-400 freighter, will expand its services between the U.S. and China. The carrier said a third Singapore-Xiamen-Nanjing-Los Angeles service will be added to the current twice-weekly frequency, effective Sept. 26. The new service brings total direct China-U.S. frequency to six times weekly. Also starting Sept. 26 will be an additional weekly flight linking Singapore, Bangalore and Amsterdam. That service currently is offered twice a week. A new weekly Singapore-Chennai-Brussels service will also be introduced. In addition, the carrier will introduce a new Singapore-New Delhi-Brussels service at the end of October.

Bush Signs Morocco Free-Trade Agreement: Add Morocco to the list of countries that hope to benefit from trade liberalization with the U.S. President Bush has signed the U.S.-Morocco free-trade agreement, a month after it was approved by Congress. Morocco joins Jordan and Israel as Mideast countries with U.S. free-trade agreements. Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman, said the deal "ad-vances the president's goal of a U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013." The agreement calls for gradual elimination of tariffs on 95 percent of industrial and commercial goods.