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When Tomasz Molenda first visited Toledo, as the first mate aboard a freighter delivering fertilizer from Norway in 1998, he noticed how empty the local port’s general-cargo dock looked.
“In 1998, it was only [steel] rolls,” he recalled Friday while Port of Toledo cranes unloaded 9,500 metric tons of Guatemalan sugar from the freighter now under his command, the M.V. Isa, which became the first overseas vessel to call on Toledo during the 2013 Great Lakes shipping season when it arrived earlier in the day.
The dock Friday sported several piles of various grades of petroleum coke, a large coal pile, scores of rows of aluminum ingots, plus a variety of other aggregates and metals. Two ocean ships booked to arrive in Toledo next month will bring loads of pig iron and calcium nitrate, said Joe Cappel, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority director of cargo development.
The M.V. Isa, registered in Cyprus and operated by Polska Zegluga Morska P.P., based in Szczecin, Poland, is “one of the earliest first ships that we’ve had in recent years,” said Mr. Cappel, who expressed hope that the early ship is a harbinger of a robust shipping season at the local port.
Port President Paul Toth, meanwhile, said without two high-speed cranes that the port authority bought three years ago — part of a $35 million equipment program to upgrade the cargo docks’ loading and unloading capacity — the sugar cargo would have gone elsewhere.
“We used to get sugar here, but we lost that business to the East Coast because our old equipment wasn’t fast enough to be competitive,” Mr. Toth said.
During a ceremony on his vessel’s bridge Friday afternoon, Captain Molenda received a customary glass goblet, bottle of Toledo water, and city coin from Paul Syring, Toledo’s deputy mayor for external relations, while port officials gave him a port authority cap and an array of Toledo Mud Hens’ souvenirs.
“I guarantee you, if you wear this anywhere in the world, someone will come up to you and say, ‘Ah, I know the Toledo Mud Hens,’ ” Mr. Toth told the captain while handing him a Hens jersey.
City Councilman Mike Craig, whose East Toledo district includes the general cargo dock, presented an honorary proclamation and said that in “my part of Toledo, this [first ship] means jobs, and we’re always happy to see the first cargo come in from overseas.”
Captain Molenda said the Great Lakes trade is important too for his employer, which maintains 12 vessels specifically designed for travel through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The Isa unloaded about half its cargo in Windsor, Ont., after a three-week voyage from Guatemala that included a Panama Canal transit as well as passage through the combined 15 locks of the Seaway and Welland Canal. Captain Molenda said his ship also was the first of the season in Windsor.
While the ship unloading appeared to proceed without interruption, the International Longshoremen’s Association district office in Cleveland set up an informational picket at Millard and Tiffin avenues, protesting what a union official said is a union-busting effort by Midwest Terminals of Toledo International, the port stevedore.
William Yockey, a union vice president, said the group of about two dozen longshoremen from several ILA locals were protesting Midwest Terminals’ recent decision to withdraw from the Great Lakes Association of Stevedores, which historically has negotiated dock-worker contracts for ports throughout the region, and its subsequent stance in negotiations for a contract with ILA Local 1982 to replace one that expired Dec. 31.
Midwest is seeking pay cuts that would put Toledo dockworkers significantly worse off compared with counterparts elsewhere, Mr. Yockey said, and in the interim has stopped deducting union dues from paychecks and is disregarding seniority for work assignments.
Alex Johnson, Midwest Terminals’ president and chief executive officer, issued a statement arguing that since 2009, when ILA’s Cleveland regional headquarters took over Local 1982’s management, “the ILA trustees and local members have actively fought Midwest’s efforts to install a modern health, safety, security, and environmental training progam to equip workers to handle larger and more complex equipment safely and efficiently.
“We have faced significant legal expenses as a result of attempting to modernize our operations and improve productivity, all for the benefit of the Port of Toledo,” Mr. Johnson wrote. “We look forward to settling this dispute quickly so we can improve our operations and focus on the future.”
He did not cite wage talks or other aspects of negotiations, and Terry Leach, the company’s director of operations, said he could not discuss ongoing negotiations.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.