By Stephen Witt
Cocoa puns and puffs aside, the issue of seven ships loaded with chocolate beans, headed to or already in Brooklyn waters, is proving to be a headache for the city. However, as of press time, a short-term solution may have been reached. “We made the shipping company an offer to use the 39th Street Pier at the Southwest Brooklyn Marine Terminal,” said Janel Patterson, spokesperson for the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). “We are also working with the Coast Guard and Port Authority to get a facilities security plan approved by next Thursday,” she added, referring to the other cocoa ships heading to Brooklyn. The borough at one time received the most shipped cocoa in the country, but due to both Port Authority and City plans to move maritime cargo operations to New Jersey and Staten Island, the borough’s role in the industry has been greatly diminished. This plan has left American Stevedoring, Inc. (ASI), which runs the last such operation from Piers 5 and 7-10 in Red Hook, out of the loop. Last year, the Port Authority and ASI signed a lease for the company to utilize the piers, but the PA stipulated the lease would not be renewed when it expires in March 2007. ASI used to have control of Pier 11 as well, but the Port Authority and EDC took it back, saying it would be needed in the future for the growing cruise industry that will dock at Pier 12. The Port Authority also maintains that Pier 7 was not part of that lease. In the meantime, ASI has one ship docked in Red Hook, and six more ships loaded with cocoa are on the way to Brooklyn with nowhere to off-load and store it. Both the Port Authority and EDC maintain the problem stems from ASI mismanagement, but the stevedoring company charges the Port Authority and EDC with sabotaging the container ship industry in Brooklyn. “The Port Authority has known about these ships for weeks,” said ASI Spokesperson Matt Yates. “The Red Hook container terminal does not control the world cargo market. The facility, however, should have enough space in order to be able to accommodate it. What’s happened here is the Port Authority has reduced our facility size to a dangerous low level and that’s why this crisis happened.” Also coming to ASI’s defense are several elected officials, teamsters and the shipping and cocoa industry. Hans Madsen, spokesperson for COO SG Shipping, and the owners of the ship that is currently unloading cocoa at Pier 9 in Red Hook, said the company feels they shouldn’t have to negotiate directly with the Port Authority and EDC. “We are not in the warehouse business so we recommend they [the PA and EDC] talk directly with ASI,” said Madsen. “We emphasize that the deal should include both Pier 11 and the 39th Street Pier. Pier 11 will only take the needs of this particular ship, and if the city wants to think cocoa in the future, they have to think long-term,” he added. Rep. Jerrold Nadler spokesperson Rob Gottheim said the issue remains up in the air. “It’s unfortunate that an agreement can’t be reached. This cocoa ship is sitting there waiting to be unloaded. There’s 75 waterfront jobs depending on unloading this in Brooklyn,” he said, adding the congressman has long supported ASI. Another elected source said it is known in many circles that the city doesn’t like ASI as the current maritime container operator. “However, they [ASI] have the lease for the port and they should be treated as any other port operator in New Jersey and Staten Island,” the source added.