Cargo Business Newswire Archives
Summary for January 20, 2014 through January 24, 2014:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Top Story

YRC reaches tentative agreement with teamsters

With a looming $69.4 million debt payment due Feb. 15, Overland Park-based trucking giant YRC Worldwide announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on an extension of a collective bargaining agreement to March 2019.

"The outcome of this week's discussions is critical to the future of the company. The MOU extension is something our employees can have confidence is the best -- and only remaining -- path forward," said James Welch, chief executive officer of YRC Worldwide.

The trucking firm's debt payment deadline spurred Moody's to changed YRC's rating to negative while asserting "a favorable resolution prior to Feb. 15 remains within the realms of possibility."

The previous proposal had been voted on without reaching an agreement with the union. The trucking company said it would revise its proposal with two aims—to satisfy investors by including cost cutting measures and to protect the jobs of its 32,000 employees. The IBT represents about 26,000 YRC employees.

"The tentative agreement contains a number of revisions to the company's previous proposal which address concerns raised by the Teamsters' leadership and its members," said YRC in its statement.

"Details of the revised proposal will be reviewed by local union officials at a 'two-person' meeting of local union officials to be held, Tuesday, January 21, 2014," the company said.

Puget Sound container ports file joint discussion agreement with FMC

Stopping short of proposing an actual merger, the Puget Sound container ports of Seattle and Tacoma have filed a joint discussion agreement with the Federal Maritime Commission in the face of what they described as "responding to unprecedented industry pressures."

The seven-page document the two Pacific Northwest port authorities filed outlines several points as to what they would discuss together, including: container facility planning, development; management, operational costs at container facilities; federal, state, local government cooperation, funding for transport infrastructure; container business rates of return on port-owned terminals, such as rates, tariffs, leases; port facility utilization; and expenditures of funds for the ports' container business.

The ports acknowledged the financial losses of global shipping lines, vessel overcapacity, and the subsequent consolidation of ports of call as factoring into their historic decision to discuss closer cooperation with each other.

"These discussions are aimed at increasing our collective market share and generating more container cargo moving through Puget Sound, the nation's third-largest container gateway. We value our responsibility to serve the citizens of Pierce and King counties-and the manufacturers and agricultural exporters throughout the state-to continue to support thousands of jobs and generate significant tax revenues to state and local governments," the ports said.

Discussions that would revolve around taking steps towards a merger of some sort, such as a joint port authority, would not be included in the current, proposed discussion agreement, according to the ports' statement.

"The agreement allows the two ports, with appropriate legal oversight, to share information about their respective operations, facilities and rates. Both port commissions agree that a change in governance, such as a merger, will not be part of this discussion and no subsequent outcomes are presupposed."

In early 2012, it was announced that the Grand Alliance of container-shipping lines would be moving approximately 400,000 TEUs worth of business from Seattle to Tacoma due in no small part to what was widely reported at the time to be more competitive rates at Tacoma.

The Port of Seattle promptly responded to the loss in container business to their neighbor with a statement that said "trading customers" encourages a "downward competitive spiral" for infrastructure investments in the state of Washington.

New $8B mega port to double Singapore's capacity

Singapore, which boasts the world's second-busiest container port, is building a new mega terminal to the west of its current complex meant to double the city's port capacity to 65 million TEUs a year.

The expansion has the potential to make Singapore the world's biggest port in terms of capacity, according to Drewry Shipping Consultants. In 2013, Singapore handled 32.6 million TEUs, 2.9 percent more year-over-year.

The city-state wants to capitalize on shipping goods manufactured in Southeast Asian, especially in the growing electronics sector. Samsung Electronics and Honda Motor are building both building new factories in Vietnam and Thailand. Trade within Asia is expected to grow twice as fast as trade between Asia and Europe, according to Bloomberg.

"We want to make sure we have capacity to be able to service the growth that can take place going forward," Singapore's Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in an interview. "We have seen the European countries mired in difficulties for a number of years but will that always be so? We need to be able to look beyond the current difficulties."

The first phase of Singapore's proposed expansion may be completed within the next decade, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. Port construction costs could be more than $7.9 billion, according to Vishnu Varathan, an economist at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

For more of the Bloomberg story:

Ports of L.A./Long Beach container volume up in 2013

2013 cargo movement was up overall at the nation's busiest port complex, besting analyst estimates and serving as a positive indicator for the U.S. economy.

Cargo volume at the Port of Long Beach improved throughout 2013, and while cargo was down for the year at the Port of Los Angeles, its container numbers rebounded in November and December.

Ferdinando Guerra, a global economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. and member of the District Export Council of Southern California, attributed the year's improved numbers to a solid peak season and strong second half.

"I'm pleasantly surprised," said Ferdinando Guerra, international economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. and a member of the District Export Council of Southern California. "No one could have foreseen such a strong November and December. That means retailers are expecting stronger sales in the first part of 2014. It's very encouraging."

Combined, the Southern California port complex shows a strong growth of 3 to 4 percent for 2013, with imports up 3.9 percent and exports by 1.2 percent, Guerra said.

The Port of Long Beach moved about 6.73 million TEUs in 2013, an 11 percent jump year-over-year, making 2013 the third-busiest year ever, according to port spokesman Art Wong.

Container volumes at the Port of Los Angeles fell 2.59 percent to 7.87 million TEUs in 2013 compared with 2012. However, in December L.A. container volumes rose 11.09 percent year-over-year.

"All indicators point to a strong 2014," Guerra said. "The global situation is definitely improving, Europe is coming out of a recession, and there's greater growth in Japan, Korea and Japan."

For more of the Press-Telegram story:

CMA CGM adjusts sailings for Chinese Lunar New Year

French container giant CMA CGM will adjust sailing schedules on several trades during the Lunar New Year festival in China effective February 4th, shifting offerings to meet the reduced demand on its services out of China during this period, according to a company statement.

On the Far East - North Europe trade, 5 sailings will be canceled on FAL lines.

Week 06
- Cancel 1 sailing on FAL1 (CMA CGM Christophe Colomb in Ningbo/February 5). Cargo will be charged on FAL 3 CMA CGM Aquila, adding calls in Chiwan and Tangier).
- Cancel 1 sailing on FAL7 (MSC Vega in Ningbo/February 4). Cargo will be charged on FAL6 (MSC Vandya with calls in Sines and Le Havre).

Week 07
- Cancel 1 sailing on FAL2 (Mercury in Ningbo/February 12). Cargo will be charged on FAL1 (CC Christophe Colomb) and on FAL6 (MSC Vandya).
- Cancel 1 sailing on FAL7 in Ningbo/February 11. Cargo will be charged on FAL6 (MSC Sonia with calls in Sines and Le Havre) and on FAL1 (CMA CGM Christophe Colomb with a call in Singapore).

Week 08
- Cancel 1 sailing on FAL3 (CMA CGM Pegasus in Xingang/February 13 and in Shanghai/February 22).

On the Asia - Mediterranean trade, 2 sailings will be canceled on MEX lines:

Week 07 - Cancel 1 sailing on MEX3 (Don Pascuale in Xiamen/February 10). Cargo will be charged on MEX1 with additional calls in Genoa.

Week 09 - Cancel 1 sailing on MEX3 (CMA CGM Titus in Xiamen/February 24). Cargo will be charged on MEX1 with additional calls in Genoa.

On the Asia -Red Sea trade, 3 sailings will be canceled on REX lines:

Week 07 - Cancel 1 sailing on REX2 (Hanjin Madrid in Shanghai/February 9)
Week 08 - Cancel 1 sailing on REX3 (Algarrobo in Port Kelang/February 20)
Week 09 - Cancel 1 sailing on REX3 (Sils in Port Kelang/February 27).

General Motors 2013 sales up 4 percent

The world's second largest car manufacturer, General Motors, sold 9.71 million vehicles in 2013 and posted a sales increase of 4 percent year-over-year.

The company, which recently appointed Mary Barra as its first female CEO, said its sales in the U.S. rose 7 percent, and were up 11 percent in both China and the UK.

"A healthy auto market in the United States and China, and very successful product launches at all of our brands worldwide drove GM's growth in 2013 and helped us navigate difficult conditions in Europe and parts of South America and Asia," said GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann.

For more of The Manufacturer story:

Bulk carrier rescues crew of 24 from sinking cargo ship

The U.S. Coast Guard said 24 crewmembers were rescued from a sinking cargo ship that lost power 450 miles west of Guam.

The USCG said the Chinese crew of the Panama-flagged Rich Forest, a vessel hauling logs to China, abandoned ship and boarded lifeboats Sunday afternoon.

The bulk cargo vessel CS Sunshine reached the crew and safely rescued them.

For more of the Washington Post story:


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top Story

MOL takes on investment fund partner at West Coast terminal operations

Japanese shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. has made a deal with Canadian investment fund Brookfield Asset Management to form a strategic alliance for container terminal operations at the ports of Oakland and Los Angeles.

The shipping group will transfer a 49 percent stake in its U.S. unit, International Transportation, to Brookfield-funded BIF II TP Aggregator LP. Mitsui O.S.K. said it expects to make $200 million from the share transfer.

Trapac's terminal operation at the Port of Jacksonville, Florida will reportedly not be part of the Brookfield deal at this time, but there is an option to invest there in four years.

UPS lowers Q4 and annual profit forecasts

UPS lowered its fourth-quarter and annual profit predictions after an unexpectedly high number of online orders forced the company to hire 30,000 extra temporary employees to cover holiday deliveries.

UPS forecasts earnings of $1.25 per share, well below the $1.43 forecast by analysts. The company said annual earnings are expected to be $4.57 per share, lower than its former forecast of $4.65 to $4.85.

"U.S. results were negatively impacted by the challenges of the compressed peak season coupled with an unprecedented level of online shopping that included a surge of last-minute orders," the company said.

UPS said it delivered 31 million packages on Dec. 23, the most ever recorded and 13 percent higher year-over-year.

Both UPS and competitor FedEx were criticized for delivery delays of packages retailers had promised would be delivered prior to Christmas.

For more of the Bloomberg story:

COSCO expects 2013 profit after two years of losses

Cosco, China's largest bulk shipping company, said last week it would return a profit in 2013, avoiding a possible stock market delisting after losses for two consecutive years.

If the company, run by state-owned China Ocean Shipping, had posted losses for three straight years, it would trigger its delisting from the Shanghai stock exchange.

China Cosco said Friday that it had swung back into profitability last year, helped by cost controls and asset sales to survive in an industry plagued by vessel overcapacity and weak demand.

"Under the tough environment, the company has adopted various measures to increase revenues and cut costs," Cosco said in a filing to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

In August, Cosco posted a smaller first-half net loss of $163 million, compared with a net loss of about $1.5 billion in 2012 and $1.7 billion in 2011. To ensure its return to the black in 2013, Cosco sold its logistics business, stakes in a container manufacturer and office properties.

For more of the South China Morning Post story:

Chair of NJ/NY Port Authority lawyers up for Bridgegate

The chairman of the Port Authority of NY/NJ, David Samson, has hired former Homeland Security Secretary and U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff to represent him as the investigation heats up over the September closure of lanes leading from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge.

Samson was subpoenaed Friday by the state General Assembly's special committee that is investigating the closure.

The "bridgegate" incident has been in national news since emails surfaced from former Christie aide Bridget Ann Kelly and David Wildstein, who was appointed by the governor to the port authority, that show Kelly asked Wildstein to close the lanes as political retribution against Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, who didn't endorse Christie's 2013 reelection bid.

A Sept. 13 email between Kelly and Wildstein mentions Samson, who Wildstein said was "helping us to retaliate."

Samson's name also came up in the investigation when Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said she was pressured by Christie aides to support a development project in exchange for Hurricane Sandy relief money. The redevelopment company was represented by Wolfe and Samson, Samson's law firm.

Samson was nominated by Governor Chris Christie to become chair of the port authority in 2011, after he had served as counsel to Christie's campaign and led his transition committee.

For more of the Main Justice story:

$100M worth of cocaine seized at Hampton Roads

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported last week that 732 pounds of cocaine were found at the port of Hampton Roads on Dec. 20, concealed in cans of fruit juice in a shipping container. Investigators estimate the cocaine has a street value of up to $100 million, the agency said.

The drug was found in a shipping container that originated from Trinidad and Tobago off the coast of Venezuela, according to CBP Area Port Director Mark Laria. It was destined for New York.

All of the cocaine was hidden in "Trinidad" brand reconstituted orange and grapefruit juice, according to Laria, adding about 700 of a few thousand cans contained cocaine.

Laria said the officers, who targeted the container due to recent smuggling trends, started out using large-scale X-ray machines, transitioned to some smaller devices and finally pulled out can openers.

For more of the Virginia Pilot story:


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Top Story

Teamsters to vote on new YRC contract this weekend

Union officials representing 26,000 workers at trucking firm YRC reviewed the revised contract Tuesday and will submit it to their membership for a vote this weekend. Workers rejected YRC's original contract offering earlier this month.

"Today's decision by local union leaders agreeing to endorse and send the tentative agreement to the membership will allow voting to take place at union halls this coming weekend," Tyson Johnson, director of the Teamsters freight division, said in a statement.

The revised offer includes some of the same concessions YRC asked for in the original contract that was rejected by 61 percent of the voters. The company said it needs the changes to persuade lenders to refinance more than $1 billion in debt. The first payment, totaling $69.4 million, is due Feb. 15.

Jim Hoffa, the Teamsters' general president, said he supports the new contract negotiated by YRC and union officials.

"No one wants concessions, but with a 'yes' vote at least we live to see another day, and I urge you to do that," Hoffa said in the announcement. "Since the rejection of the company's proposal, I met with dozens of YRC members and I have heard from thousands of others. I came away convinced that we owed it to the members to make one last effort to save the company."

The two sides said Friday they had negotiated a tentative agreement to extend the contract that expires after March 2015.

Among its changes, the new agreement stipulates that "the employer agrees not to buy any union or non-union regular route common carrier entity without the prior approval of" the Teamsters national freight negotiating committee.

Like the original, the revised contract still would replace pay raises scheduled for this year and next with one-time bonuses. It would still set a new pay scale for new hires without a commercial driver's license, but it increased the new wage scale.

The revised agreement drops a proposed pay freeze for all Teamsters workers who don't have a commercial driver's license. Changes were also made to YRC's originally requested concessions on vacation pay and on accruing vacation days. Restrictions were added to the company's proposal to use other trucking carriers for some work.

YRC chief executive James Welch, in an announcement Friday, called the revised proposal the "best — and only remaining — path forward."

For more of the Kansas City Star story:

2013 U.S. industrial real estate market strongest since 2005

In 2013 the U.S. industrial real estate market delivered its best performance since 2005, with 328.5 million square feet in leasing activity and 117.2 million square feet of positive absorption in 2013, according to commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

The company's year-end market research data also shows lower vacancies, and higher rental rates and construction levels.
"Growing demand for goods from consumers and businesses is propelling the industrial sector into its most positive state since before the Great Recession," said John Morris, head of Industrial Services for the Americas. "Manufacturing production and shipments are increasing at a healthy pace, as are imports and exports. Real estate demand has responded accordingly, resulting in a very good year for our industry."
Industrial leasing activity went up 6.2 percent year-over-year, the report said. Greater Los Angeles led the nation, with 35.8 million square feet in activity, followed by Chicago with 30.9 million square feet.

The data shows net demand is up 23 percent from last year, with only one out of the 37 markets tracked recording negative absorption. Dallas/Fort Worth led the nation in 2013 occupancy gains with 15.1 million square feet, followed by the Inland Empire with 12.6 million square feet.
The U.S. vacancy rate fell to 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter, down 80 basis points from a year ago. "The overall vacancy rate has now declined for 13 consecutive quarters," Morris said. "In the warehouse sector, vacancy has reached its lowest rate in five years, declining for 15 consecutive quarters."

As the year came to a close, the report said 79.4 million square feet of new industrial space was under construction, up 87 percent more than year-end 2012. New development is strongest in Inland Empire, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Central New Jersey and the PA I-81/I-78 Distribution Corridor. Each of these markets has 4 million square feet or more under construction.
Morris anticipates continued progress in 2014. "Less fiscal drag and reduced uncertainty should lead to stronger economic growth this year," he said. "Considering that demand for industrial space has been consistently strong through the economic resurgence so far, it should remain so as the recovery becomes more robust."

Hanjin decision looms as Port of Portland ICTSI and ILWU renew conflict

The conflict at the Port of Portland between the longshoremen's union and International Container Terminal Services rages on as Hanjin shipping line is poised to hand down a decision any day on whether it will pull its business, which accounts for 75 percent of all container traffic at the port.

On Monday, as both a Hanjin ship and a Hapag-Lloyd vessel idled in port, operations broke down amid union accusations of ICTSI mismanagement and counter claims of dockworker crews arriving hours late.

This disruption at Terminal 6 reportedly caused operator ICTSI Oregon to issue a last-minute ban on freight deliveries Tuesday. The unusual gate restrictions allowed truckers to pick up and drop off only empty containers in the morning, and collect only full boxes in the afternoon. So a truck that usually drops off an empty container and picks up a full box of imports in just one trip had to queue up twice. And truckers carrying full containers for export who didn't get word were turned away.

Jennifer Sargent, an ILWU spokeswoman, said delays resulted from ICTSI failing to arrange for necessary mechanics and gear men to work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"ICTSI continues to cut workers, and cut the wages and hours of those workers retained, while expecting greater overall productivity," Sargent wrote. "It continues to demand increased rates and unbundling of services from the carriers while at the same time squeezing service to those carriers and the carriers' customers and its ILWU-represented workforce."

On Tuesday, ICTSI Oregon issued a statement saying the company did order qualified crane and equipment mechanics in a timely manner Monday in accordance with its labor agreement.

"However, the ILWU Local 8 hiring hall breached its obligations under the agreement by failing to provide qualified mechanics," the ICTSI statement said. "As a result, operations on both the Hanjin and Hapag vessels were seriously delayed yesterday by more than two hours and the crews were forced to stand by. The ILWU only moved to provide qualified mechanics when ICTSI called the Pacific Maritime Association arbitrator out to the terminal to arbitrate the issue."

The latest chaos won't please Hanjin's managers. If the terminal's biggest shipping line pulls out, importers and exporters will have to pay extra for transporting containers by truck or rail to and from Washington and California ports.

Gov. John Kitzhaber brokered a deal last month in which union electricians gave the equivalent of two disputed reefer maintenance jobs to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose members move cargo at Terminal 6. Kitzhaber and Port of Portland officials hoped that longshore workers would speed cargo handling, prompting Hanjin to stay.

For more of The Oregonian story:

Shenzhen overtakes Hong Kong as third busiest container port for 2013

China's Shenzhen port bested Hong Kong to become the world's third-busiest container port for the first time last year, after a strike shifted ships away from the port in Hong Kong. Shanghai and Singapore remain the world's two biggest container ports.

Shenzhen, in Guangdong province, handled 23.3 million TEUs last year, surpassing Hong Kong's 22.3 million over the same period, according to data from the Transport Commission of Shenzhen Municipality and the Hong Kong Port Development Council show.

Port workers at billionaire Li Ka-shing's Hongkong International Terminals went on a 40-day strike in late March 2013, demanding higher wages. Evergreen Marine and Mitsui OSK Lines were among shipping firms that redirected vessels to other ports.

For more of the Bloomberg story:

Evergreen container ship rescues 16 Indian sailors

An Evergreen Marine container ship, the Ever Summit, rescued 16 Indian sailors this week from a shipwreck off Vietnam, the company said in a statement.

On Jan. 20, the Ever Summit was en route to Malaysia when it picked up a mayday call from a Panamanian cargo ship, the Bitu Gulf. The Ever Summit's captain and crew located a lifeboat about 40 nautical miles off Vietnam and rescued all 16 sailors aboard, Evergreen said.

The cause of the shipwreck is unknown.

For more of the Focus Taiwan story:


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Top Story

Gov. Christie signs bill to stop cargo facility fee at N.Y./N.J. ports

On Tuesday Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a bill to eliminate the cargo facility fee at the ports of New York and New Jersey, according to statement from Maersk Line.

"This legislation goes a long way in ensuring that the Port of New York and New Jersey remains competitive with ports across the country," said Doug Morgante, Maersk Line's director of state government relations, "We are grateful that Governor Christie recognized how critical removing this onerous fee is to the vitality of the maritime industry."

Earlier this month the New Jersey Assembly unanimously approved the bill, which prohibits the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from imposing a cargo facility charge on users, ocean common carriers, marine terminal operators, and rail carriers without a written mutual agreement, in a move meant to boost the competitiveness of the bi-state port complex.

"By imposing a tax on ocean carriers, the authority has driven up the cost of doing business locally and driven freight to other ports along the East Coast," said N.J. Senator Bob Gordon, who co-sponsored the bill. "This threatens the future success of the port and the hundreds of thousands of local jobs that people in our region depend on. We should be looking to make the port stronger and more competitive, and repealing this fee will go a long way toward doing that."

The bill will remain inoperative until a similar bill is enacted by New York. Senator Michael Ranzenhofer introduced S6156 to the New York legislature on January 8, 2014, and it now resides with the Senate Transportation Committee, the statement said.

The Port Authority of NY/NJ, the third largest port in the country, supports 280,000 jobs. In 2011, the Authority became the only port in the U.S. to impose a cargo facility charge on all marine cargo, including empty containers. The fee is $4.95 per-TEU, $9.90 per-FEU, and $1.11 per-unit for vehicle cargo.

Maersk said the N.Y./N.J. fee cost them $3.5 million annually

After the fee was imposed, a number of carriers, including China Shipping Container Lines, Hanjin Shipping Company and United Arab Shipping Company, filed a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission. The lines argued that container carriers should not be responsible for rail, road and security improvement projects, to which most of the fee revenue is funneled. The case is still pending.

Hapag-Lloyd and CSAV ink deal to form No. 4 largest shipping company

Germany's Hapag Lloyd signed an agreement with Cia. Sud Americana de Vapores, controlled by Chile's Luksic family, to form the globe's fourth largest container shipping firm.

According to the memorandum of understanding, CSAV will own 30 percent of the new company, Valparaiso, joining in a shareholder pact with billionaire Klaus-Michael Kuehne and the City of Hamburg that will control a total of 75.5 percent.

Kuehne, who controls Switzerland-based Kuehne & Nagel, the world's largest sea-freight forwarder, owns a 28 percent stake in Hapag-Lloyd.

Both companies are trying to offset shipping vessel overcapacity and low rates and compete with giant shipping companies, such as Maersk Line, as well as its proposed cooperative alliance with CGM-CGA and MSC.

Combined, CSAV and Hapag-Lloyd will ship 1 million TEUs and sales of approximately $12 billion a year, according to the statement.

Hapag-Lloyd will boost its presence on the Europe-Latin America and Latin America-Asia trades through the deal.

For more of the Bloomberg story:

No deal yet as deadline looms for Panama Canal expansion

The work on the Panama Canal is facing work stoppage, with the building consortium that's been doing the expansion work saying it will halt work on Monday if the canal authority doesn't come up with money to cover $1.6 billion in cost overruns.

The Panama Canal Authority, which has been praised for its competent management of the mammoth project to this point, demands that the consortium live up to the terms of its original contract.

The 72-percent-complete expansion project is doubling the capacity of the canal, which ferries 5 to 6 percent of the world's trade. A stop-and-restart of the canal expansion, one of the largest construction efforts in the world, could mean a delay of months or even years.

"Monday will be a crucial day in the history of the Panama Canal and for us as a country that wants to carry out projects of great size," Jose L. Ford, the president of the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, said after meeting with canal authority directors this week.

The building consortium, United for the Canal, blames the cost overruns mostly on problems with the feasibility studies done by the Panamanian authority before work started. It says that geological obstacles it has faced during excavation have kept it from getting the basalt it needs to make the vast amounts of cement required for the expansion.

Many experts say the problem has arisen because the consortium recklessly underbid the project costs to win the canal expansion contract in 2009, submitting $1 billion less than a bid led by the U.S. construction giant Bechtel. The consortium denies the allegation.

Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano has scheduled a Tuesday meeting with the authority's insurance company, Zurich America, to plan possible next steps if a deal fails to materialize. He said the canal authority is prepared to take over the job in February and spend as much as $1.5 billion more to complete the expansion.

"We want United for the Canal to finish the job," Quijano said. "Our intention is to find a way to get that done. That's what's best for the contractor and for us, but we also have to be ready in case they give up."

Both sides say they want to make a deal as the deadline looms. The authority proposed on Jan. 7 that it invest another $183 million, with the consortium putting in $100 million, to cover construction costs for the next few months as they attempt to strike a permanent deal. The consortium insisted the authority pay between $400 million and $1 billion.

For more of the Mercury News story:

Hampton Roads sets container records in 2013

The port of Hampton Roads set records in 2013 for overall container volume and rail cargo, according to the Virginia Port Authority.

"The year's production is a testament to hard work and getting back to focusing upon the core mission of moving cargo," said Rodney Oliver, interim executive director of the VPA, in the statement.

The port handled 2,223,532 TEUS, a 5.6 percent increase year-over-year, besting the 2007 record by 95,166 TEUs.

Containers moved by rail last year surged 11.7 percent, compared with 2012 numbers.

Two workers die in manufacturing plant collapse

Two workers died after a blast caused much of a manufacturing plant in Omaha, Neb., to collapse Monday morning.

Two of the 38 workers who were at the International Nutrition plant died and 10 were hospitalized with significant injuries, authorities said.

One firefighter was also sent to the hospital with an injured hand.

Authorities don't know what caused the blast, which caused key structural supports to fail, and the second and third floors of the plant collapsed on top of the first floor.

For more of the Insurance Journal story:

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