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February 20, 2004

South Carolina ports plan security charge

The Charleston Post and Courier reports that South Carolina ports officials want incoming ships to share the cost of security by adding a first-in-the-nation surcharge of $1 per foot of a ship's length.

The newspaper reports State Ports Authority (SPA) President and CEO Bernard Groseclose as saying the charge, which could take effect as early as July, is necessary because of the rising costs of inspecting cargo and guarding the waterfront.

According to the newspaper, officials say the surcharge is necessary because even with the federal grants it receives, SPA's security budget is running more than $1.6 million short of covering costs. The surcharge could generate about $1 million a year.

"These are costs that are being directed at us by the federal government," the newspaper quotes Groseclose, who said the issue is about mutual sharing of costs in exchange for group security.

The surcharge would reportedly apply to every large vessel, including barges, cruise ships and ocean-crossing cargo ships, that docks in Charleston, Georgetown and Port Royal. The add-on was set to go into effect March 1, but the SPA board voted Wednesday to postpone collection at least until July.

In the meantime, the SPA is reported to be pursuing a pact known as a "Maritime Security Discussion Agreement," in which other ports, terminal operators and shipping lines from across the country might agree on a package of port security fees that would benefit all of them.

Talks on the agreement started last year but haven't produced anything yet, says the newspaper.

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