• The Star Staff

Tote Maritime raises fees at the same time Luis Ayala Colón does


Cargo costs affected in island’s only port of entry for goods


By The Star Staff


Tote Maritime, the island’s second largest private operator of domestic cargo terminals in the Port of San Juan, is raising its fees.


Tote affiliate Puerto Rico Terminals has a joint venture with the marine support services firm Luis Ayala Colón (LAC) Sucrs. Inc. that virtually gives these companies control of the Port of San Juan, the only point of entry for goods on the island.


Tote’s fee hikes come as LAC, the only company in the Port of San Juan in charge of loading and unloading ships, announced it is raising its cargo fees and adding new charges effective March 1, a move that could hike prices and hinder access to products as 85% of the goods in the island are imported.


An industry official as well as Manuel Reyes, executive vice president of the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry and Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym), confirmed the information on Tote’s proposed fee hikes, which they received from the business community.


“This makes us less competitive,” Reyes said.


While Puerto Rico has four shipping companies, two of them control 85% of the market, Reyes said. LAC’s near-complete control of cargo handling creates a problem for businesses, importers and exporters who have no alternatives for avoiding the fee hikes.


“The Ports Authority needs to bring in more competition,” the MIDA official said.


Reyes could not say what the hikes’ impact would be on the local economy. In 2019, MIDA conducted a study on the cost of transporting goods between the United States and Puerto Rico as part of a larger study on the Jones Act that found the statute causes losses of $1.5 billion to Puerto Rico.


An industry official noted that since LAC signed an agreement with Puerto Rico Terminals to create the joint venture Puerto Nuevo Terminals, they had warned of the negative impact to the economy because these companies have virtual control of the Port of San Juan.


The island Justice Department in an email message s aid its investigation of the possibility that the companies have created a monopoly is still ongoing. That investigation began in 2019. LAC and Puerto Rico Terminals, under the joint venture Puerto Nuevo Terminals, manage 80% of the maritime cargo and Crowley has the rest in the Port of San Juan.


Ports Authority spokesman José Carmona said Ports has a small area in the Port of San Juan but that the so-called joint venture is in the hands of the Federal Maritime Commission.


According to an LAC, effective March 1 there will be a new terminal tariff at the company’s San Juan Terminal facility for all consignees, shippers and owners receiving and delivering equipment for all lines. The company is raising its terminal maintenance fee to $25 per full unit from the current $15 per full unit, a hike of almost 65%. A container inspection charge of $90 per inspection was increased by $30.


LAC raised a terminal security fee to $17.50 per full unit from $10 per full unit, along with additional charges. For instance, it imposed a gate charge not covered by the stevedoring/terminal contract of $45 per gate move, a mount & discharge picks per unit charge of $35, and sold unit handling charges of $160.


To keep the terminal on overtime from 4-6 p.m. Monday to Friday, there will be a $400 charge per hour, an increase of $100. On Saturdays and holidays, the charge could be $1,600 per hour.


On Saturdays and holidays, the charge could be $1,600 per hour for the first four hours, extra hours $400 per hour, an increase of $450 per hour.


LAC also imposed new charges that range from $35 to $75 per unit for office hire and sold containers and shipper-owned units. The firm also imposed five stevedoring charges for non-contract clients that include an overtime differential cost of $800 per hour.


Tote, meanwhile, has not made its charges public, but industry officials noted that the new hikes will start in April and include total accessorial charges that are going up to $310 from $245.


International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1740 President Carlos C. Sánchez Ortiz said the union has warned for years about the concentration of power in a few maritime companies without government supervision.


“This corporate framework involves risks that must be avoided at all costs, since they will inescapably increase the costs of all consumer goods, services and even border on risk to national security,” he said.

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