Board chief upbeat on Maersk

David Posek

The head of the State Ports Authority's board spoke optimistically Wednesday about a high-stakes effort to keep the Port of Charleston's remaining business with mega-customer Maersk Line.

"I think we've given them an offer that they will find acceptable," David Posek said while addressing the S.C. International Trade Conference being held this week at Charleston Place.

Port officials declined to elaborate on the Maersk talks, but Posek, who is the SPA's chairman, said in his remarks to conference attendees that the agency remains in negotiations with the world's largest container carrier.

Denmark-based Maersk, which accounts for about 20 percent of the Port of Charleston's container volume, announced in December that it would move its business elsewhere by the time its contract with the SPA ends in late 2010.

The company, which like most steamship lines has been hurt by a decline in business brought on by the recession, has said it could not reach a cost-saving arrangement that was acceptable to both the ports authority and the International Longshoremen's Association.

At least three proposals have been presented to Maersk since then, port officials have said.

On another front, Posek said the SPA is "in the final phases" of finding a permanent replacement for former president and chief executive officer Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., who quit in the middle of a performance evaluation in January.

SPA board member Bill Stern, who is overseeing the search committee, said the number of candidates for the top job is down to seven, but that no timetable has been set for winnowing that group to a list of finalists.

John F. Hassell, a former board member, has been serving as interim CEO since Groseclose's resignation.

Posek also spoke about the SPA's renewed focus, its expansion plans and the year's economic outlook.

He said container volume at the port so far this fiscal year is about 15 percent below last year's numbers. But he also announced that Mediterranean Shipping Co. would make 52 additional calls beginning June 9 as part of a service from eastern South America.

MSC, the world's second-largest shipping line, recently extended its contract with the SPA into 2017.

Posek also told the crowd that the SPA continues to move forward in building its new container terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston and plans to open the facility in time for the Panama Canal expansion in 2014.

He said also that the agency recently refocused on its mission to serve as an economic engine for the state. That means improving its marketing and customer relations.

As Posek put it, "The best customer is the one that you already have."