Alan Green Jr., chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, noted with some satisfaction that "this is the way government is supposed to work."
He was talking about the efforts of Matthew V. Scocozza, deputy assistant secretary of State for transportation and telecommunications, in defusing a nasty maritime squabble with a friendly foreign country.
Green's commission was about to lower the boom on Venezuela by issuing new rules that, in effect, would have excluded that nation's ships from U.S. ports when Scocozza & Co. rode out of Foggy Bottom with a compromise that seems to have satisfied everybody, at least for now.
Acting on a complaint by two American shipping companies, Delta Steamship Lines and Coordinated Caribbean Transport, the FMC found that Venezuela was discriminating against foreign vessels and reserving most of its seaborne trade for its national shipping lines.
So the commission announced it would suspend the outbound tariffs, or schedule of freight rates, of all four Venezuelan lines serving U.S. ports. Since the tariffs have to be published, the suspension would have excluded the Venezuelans.
Faced with this drastic action, which the maritime trade press described as the strongest in many years to protect U.S. merchant ships against discriminatory practices abroad, Venezuela caved in.
Jose Jesus Villafana, general director of maritime transportation for Venezuela, hustled up to Washington and asked for a meeting with Green.
Green and the commission met with him, but said their function was to enforce the rules, not to negotiate. That was up to the diplomats.
With the deadline bearing down on them, Scocozza and Villafana obtained a settlement. The Venezuelans agreed to "discussions" with the American shipping companies to give them access to cargo between the two nations. The Transportation Department's Maritime Administration agreed to allow Venezuelan flag ships to carry cargo financed by the Export-Import Bank. And "all concerned executive branch agencies of the government of the United States" agreed to ask the FMC to drop the punitive rules.
The FMC, by prearrangement, did so, a day before they were to take effect.
Green expressed his satisfaction with the outcome, noting that "government stepped in and got the interested parties talking to each other," but he added, "We have not terminated our activities in this matter, but only suspended them awaiting a final resolution of the problem. We can open it up again if the situation takes a turn for the worse." AFTER VENEZUELA, THERE'S JAMAICA . . . Another kind of maritime issue is shaping up over word that the government is going to buy another million metric tons of Jamaican bauxite for the strategic minerals reserve.
Rep. Walter B. Jones (D-N.C.), chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, and Rep. Edwin B. Forsythe (R-N.J.), ranking minority member, have served notice on the Maritime Administration and the General Services Administration that they expect most of this bauxite to be carried to this country in American flag vessels.
Federal law requires that 50 percent of "government-impelled" cargoes be carried on American ships, if ships are available and the rate is competitive. But last year, when GSA bought 1.6 million tons of bauxite for the stockpile, U.S. ships were not used because, GSA said, none was equipped to use the Reynolds Metals Co. piers in Texas where the ore was to be delivered.
All right, said Jones and Forsythe, but the next shipment better make up for what you gave away this time.
In a letter to Carroll Jones, acting commissioner of GSA's Federal Property Resources Service, Jones and Forsythe said retired admiral Harold Shear, head of the Maritime Administration, "anticipated the shortfall in U.S. carriage resulting from the irregularities of the 1982 bauxite sale would be made up in succeeding bauxite replenishment transactions. We ratify this approach and assume that the shipments, which are expected to start in March, will be on U.S. flag vessels."
Aides to Jones say they have not yet received a reply from GSA.