Finally, a break in the fog between the port pilots’ association and the port’s governing board could be on the horizon.
Members of the port pilots’ association Tuesday agreed to meet with shippers and Port of Galveston officials about fog delays, while the port’s governing board agreed to send two representatives to an upcoming pilot commission meeting.
Recently such invites were met with cold shoulders and posturing.
The Board of Pilot Commissioners on Feb. 8 rejected a port request for a joint meeting, instead inviting wharves trustees to one of its meetings.
The issue of fog delays for ships entering the port has reportedly increased rumblings from the cruise industry — particularly in light of recent aggressive rate increases in the fees pilots charge to guide vessels into and out of the port.
A rate increase proposal totaling 30 percent over three years, which the pilot board approved last year, even drew a lawsuit from several shipping interests, including the port. The pilots ultimately agreed to a one-year increase of 16 percent.
While the pilots maintain they consider only safety when they make decisions about guiding ships to and from the port, there has been persistent speculation that some of the delays have been in retaliation against those who opposed the rate increase.
We’d like to remind everyone involved this is big business. With Galveston being the fourth most popular cruise port in the United States — hosting nearly 900,000 passenger departures a year — this is nothing to take lightly.
The port has invested heavily in the facilities needed to serve that business, and unhappy customers become easy targets for competing sites to build a business model upon. Corpus Christi, for example, comes to mind as a possible suitor.
“I’m just frustrated that two professional boards can’t sit down and discuss the issues,” wharves board Chairman Ted O’Rourke said. “And we aren’t just a mediator in the discussion — we are paying for this. We are not without skin in the game.”
Also during the meeting, a cruise industry representative said the pilots had previously declined to meet with the cruise lines.
The cruise business is one of the more attractive businesses to come to our region. Since the year 2000, the economic impact has been important and too important to be misplayed over egos and posturing.
Let’s get the players at the table and work in good faith to clear the fog between each and not drive the cruise lines needlessly into the arms of a competitor.
• Leonard Woolsey