Great Lakes Pilots Respond to Rates Lawsuit

File image courtesy John McCreery / Boatnerd

Published Jul 6, 2016 8:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

The American Great Lakes Ports Association and the U.S. Great Lakes Shipping Association have joined a suit by six Canadian and European shipping firms against the U.S. Coast Guard over higher pilotage rates. The Coast Guard has not yet filed a response to the suit, but on Tuesday, the pilots' associations issued a joint statement in support of the raise.

The USCG sets pilotage rates for the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes, and this year it raised fees, citing the need to recruit and train additional pilots. The Coast Guard framed the raise as a safety and efficiency measure, noting that a shortage of trained pilots for relief could lead to fatigue issues; the agency says that that the pilotage system was underfunded by $20 million over the past ten years, "leading to pilot shortages and traffic delays." 

However, the shipowners and allied associations contend that higher wages aren't needed for recruitment and training, and that the raise would “effect a dramatic increase in costs for all vessel owners, and this effect may be especially harsh to vessels that operate on certain routes." The consortium believes that the new cost structure will rase effective rates by more than 50 percent, eroding "the competitive position of the Great Lakes Seaway navigation system." The USCG estimates the net cost increase at about $1.9 million this year, plus an additional one-time $1.7 million for hiring and training new pilots. 

"If the Coast Guard remains insensitive to these costs, we will see shipping on the Great Lakes atrophy and that will mean job losses at our ports," said Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.  

In a statement Tuesday, the presidents of the Lakes Pilots, Western Great Lakes Pilots and the St. Lawrence Seaway Pilots Associations issued a joint statement outlining the issue in terms of safety. "It was extremely disappointing that these foreign corporations have decided to challenge [the rate increase], knowing that the changes they have demanded would save them money but undermine safety and environmental protection," they said.