Maersk to stay in Port of Charleston

CHARLESTON - The Port of Charleston will keep about a quarter of its business after Maersk Line reached a new contract with the South Carolina State Ports Authority on Thursday.

The contract keeps the shipping company in Charleston through 2014. Maersk announced last year it was leaving the port after the old contract expired in 2010.

The new contract will let Maersk work from a smaller, dedicated portion of the Wando Welch Terminal. The shipper threatened to pull out of the port because it wanted to work out of the common yard, but the local International Longshoremen's Association union did not approve the change.

The company's agreement with the union won't change in the new contract, according to Maersk.

"Under the new agreement, Maersk Line will maintain a competitive position within the Port of Charleston. This will allow us to continue to provide a reliable service for our valued customers in South Carolina, a benefit to the economy both in Charleston and throughout South Carolina," Maersk spokesman Dana Magliola said.

State Ports Authority officials scrambled to reach a new agreement with Maersk, which represents about a quarter of the Charleston port's total calls.

The Maersk discussions ramped up more than a year ago when the container carrier could not reach a cost-saving agreement amenable to both the SPA and the International Longshoremen's Association.

Facing a volume decline, Maersk hoped to save money by moving into the so-called "common-use" area of the Wando Welch Terminal, where SPA workers would perform jobs that otherwise fall to pricier union labor.

Maersk's old contract had provided for a certain amount of space and staffing at the Wando Welch Terminal and required the SPA to buy more than $8 million in equipment for the shipping line. Then the market plummeted.

The three local maritime unions rejected Maersk's cost-cutting proposal in December, and the company responded by announcing it would strip all services from Charleston by the time its contract runs out at the end of 2010. By March, Maersk's calls to the Port of Charleston dropped by nearly half.