The Port of Galveston’s governing board made a good move Tuesday when it instructed newly hired Port Director Rodger Rees to draft a letter seeking a joint meeting with the Board of Pilot Commissioners.

The appointed five-member pilot board, which oversees the Galveston-Texas City Pilots Association, should accept the offer from the Wharves Board of Trustees to meet.

The pilot board had not acted on a previous overture to meet, arguing there seemed to be division among wharves trustees about the meeting.

We criticized wharves board Chairman Ted O’Rourke about the handling of that first attempted meeting. We argued he’d gotten too far ahead of the rest of the board by presenting, without a board vote, a letter that he’d drafted on Port of Galveston letterhead.

O’Rourke disagrees with our assessment, and the vote Tuesday made all that beside the point, because the trustees were unanimous about having Rees approach the pilot commissioners about a joint meeting.

The wharves board has made a very clear statement that it would like to meet with the pilot board to discuss two matters of compelling public interest — fog delays and how the two boards can form a better relationship.

The only reasonable response by the pilot board is to accept the offer and meet with the port. To do otherwise would validate the argument that the pilot board had been dodging and stalling all along.

It would be hard to overstate how important it is to clear the air about fog delays.

The problem is this: The major cruise lines operating from Galveston think — or worry, or suspect, or argue, pick your own word — that pilots are using fog delays as a pretext for keeping vessels from entering and leaving the port.

Industry officials have at least implied the delays are in retaliation for the industry’s opposition to steep increases in the rates it must pay pilots to guide ships in and out of the port.

Even if that’s complete hogwash, it’s still a problem that a major port customer and major contributor to the local economy seems to believe may be true.

The port now depends heavily on revenues from cruise ships, anticipating about 55 percent of $37.4 million in revenue budgeted for 2018 will be cruise-related.

As we have argued before, cruise lines are highly mobile and have been fickle in the past, leaving one port for a better deal at another.

The port also has invested heavily in infrastructure to support and grow cruise business.

Too much is at stake for port leaders to allow fog delays to go unaddressed.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

(3) comments

Bill Cochrane

The two issues cited for the reasons to meet are reasonable. "Form better relations" is a tough one. The Pilots are a monopoly. Even though most monopolies are illegal, the Good Ole Boy system in Austin allows this monopoly in the name of "safety concerns because other competitive pilot companies may not do their job." This monopoly does not answer to the Port, and never will. Forming good relationships with a monopoly that rules the roost, demands pay raises for questionable reasons and holds ships hostage for "safety" reasons doesn't lend itself to good relations. But, the good news is that there is a simple way to deal with fog issues. The port traffic should be controlled by The United States Coast Guard. That is their job. If any weather situation, including fog, high winds, and rough waters make navigation a hazard, the Coast Guard already has the authority to shut down all traffic. When this happens, the ferry system is shut down. Why do the ferry boats continue when the Pilots shut cruise ship navigation down?

Joel Martin

Excellent point Bill. I know a retired Neches pilot that said fog was not a problem with modern radar. He referred to it as a "fog machine".

Jarvis Buckley

The pilots should answer to the port.
I suspect they will real soon. The times my friend they are a changing.✌️

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