Port of Olympia emails: Longshore worker line-handling fees appear to be at root of cruise ship cancellation

American Cruise Lines canceled the American Constellation’s planned visit to Olympia last month and on Oct. 8. Publicly requested emails show that line-handling fees may have been too much for the Connecticut-based cruise line.
American Cruise Lines canceled the American Constellation’s planned visit to Olympia last month and on Oct. 8. Publicly requested emails show that line-handling fees may have been too much for the Connecticut-based cruise line. Peter Haley

The Port of Olympia and its community partners were teed up in September to welcome the American Constellation, a cruise ship operated by American Cruise Lines that was set to call on the city for the first time.

A welcoming committee, including representatives of the Olympia Farmers Market and Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, were set to meet visitors at the Port Plaza the weekend of Sept. 22-23. Port partners Experience Olympia, the city of Olympia and Olympia Downtown Alliance also were involved, port spokeswoman Jennie Foglia-Jones said.

“We wanted them to get a flavor of our entire county,” Foglia-Jones said about the ship’s guests and their visit.

After more than a year of work, American Cruise Lines canceled its planned visit for September and October in an email sent to interim port Executive Director Rudy Rudolph on Sept. 21.

“We were looking forward to visiting Olympia, and it is unfortunate that we are canceling the American Constellation’s port calls on Sept. 22 and Oct. 8,” said Eric Dussault, a marine operations planner for the Connecticut-based cruise line.

Why did they cancel? It wasn’t entirely clear at the time, and the company declined to comment, so The Olympian filed a records request for emails between the port and cruise line. They show that line-handling fees might have been the root cause of the cancellation.

Despite that, Foglia-Jones said the port was still largely in the dark about the reasons behind the cancellation because she thought the issue of longshore-related fees had been settled.

Executive Director Rudolph plans to talk to American Cruise Lines this week, she said.

Robert Rose, president of Local 47, which serves the port, said he, too, was surprised because he thought everything had been worked out by the port and longshore about the visit.

“We thought it was a done deal and we were going to tie that ship up,” Rose said Sunday.

Port of Olympia emails

The port emails show both enthusiasm for the ship visits as well as the first hiccup in September 2017 as explained by port Harbor Director Bruce Marshall to Dussault, the marine operations planner.

“Our local longshore has exercised jurisdiction over the area where the recreational dock is located much to our surprise,” Marshall said.

(The recreational dock is the public dock at the Port Plaza. If you’re unfamiliar with that area, it’s home to a lookout tower where one can climb to the top and gaze at Budd Inlet.)

Marshall continued: “As such, they are imposing certain fees to cover labor charges for services they normally perform for vessels within their area. Through many meetings, and much negotiations, we have managed to get most of the fees waived. The only fee that they insist be imposed is a line-handling charge based on union rates for the service.”

Marshall ended the email by explaining the fee is going to be about $1,800 per ship visit.

Over the ensuing months, there weren’t many emails about the line-handling fees until shortly before the ship’s visits. It was then that marine operations planner Dussault asked a clarifying question about the fees and then expressed his disappointment.

“We were just quoted line-handling rates for this stop,” he wrote. “For arrival and departure we are looking at a total of about $2,400. For a U.S. flagged, all U.S. crew, this amount seem very expensive, considering we are tying up at a floating dock. Any thoughts on reducing or eliminating this fee?”

Harbor Director Marshall replied that the ship could anchor about two miles north of the dock and “shuttle into the (Port) Plaza dock, if you like.” Later, the visits were canceled.

Local 47

President Rose explained Sunday that the recreational dock at the Port Plaza is considered longshore jurisdiction for commercial vehicles.

He also thought the issue of line-handling fees had been settled, adding that the discussion was less about the fee and more about the number of people to do the job.

“We settled on a lower amount of people,” he said.

The local wants a crack at negotiating directly with the cruise line, Rose said.

“We are willing to work with this company in anyway possible,” he said. “We would love to meet and make this happen. Sit down and have a meeting with us.”