Unions: 'Unproven' towboat operator causing unsafe conditions on Columbia River

The following is the text of a news release from the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots and the Inland Boatmen's Union:

(PORTLAND, Ore.) — An oil spill or other catastrophe threatens to result from the chaotic conditions on the Columbia River, where an inexperienced towboat and tugboat operator is making a frenetic attempt to capitalize on the seven-month old labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and two Japanese-owned grain terminals.

Raising the alarm are two labor unions whose members have been sidelined as a result ofthe dispute: the Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P) and the Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU). Members of MM&P and IBU are honoring the picket lines ofthe ILWU workers, who have been locked out of their jobs at the Columbia Grain terminal in Portland and the United Grain Terminal in Vancouver since February.

To move the grain in the midst ofthe lock~out, terminal owners Marubenì Corp. and Mitsui & Co. Ltd. have called in a ñy-by-night tug and towboat operator using questionable equipment and unqualified tugboat personnel with no prior experience on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

“The safety of commerce on the Columbia River is in jeopardy,” says Captain Don Marcus, President of MM&P. “An unproven towboat operator using substandard personnel is Working the locked-out terminals. There is no doubt that an environmental catastrophe could take place at any time.”

IBU President Alan Cote reports that accidents “are occurring with regularity.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is turning a blind eye. “The Coast Guard is charged by law with enforcing federal marine regulations, but numerous notifications of dangerous conditions have been ignored,” Cote says. Federal regulations require the Coast Guard to remain neutral in labor disputes, but “failing to investigate known violations and accidents on the river for the benefit of Marubeni and Mitsui and to the detriment of American Workers and the safety ofthe Columbia River, is, in fact, taking sides,” he says.

Catastrophic damage t0 the ecology ofthe Columbia River is a real possibility in this situation, the unions say, adding, “We are compelled to bring this situation to the attention ofthe general public.”

“We urge all members of our community to demand safe vessel operations on the Columbia River and to require that the parties to this dispute sit down and resolve their differences so that our region may prosper,” they said.

Aîan Cote, President, IBU Donald Marcus, President, MMSLP

By Professional Mariner Staff