By Mary Maushard | Photography by Donovan Eaton Photography
When local stevedores were blamed for diesel-fuel contamination of salt in a bulk shipment, American Marine & Cargo, Inc., delved into the situation, finding that the contamination occurred elsewhere and saving an area firm millions in liability costs.
When a bulk vessel was loading steel beams and machinery boxes at the Port of Baltimore, without any way to secure them, American Marine found a solution that enabled the crew to load the whole shipment securely so it could arrive safely and securely in an Italian port.
These are the kinds of jobs American Marine has been doing at the Port of Baltimore since the company’s founding in 2004. “You name it and we do anything related to the maritime industry and ships,” said Capt. Alok K. Praharaj, owner and founder.
Capt. Alok, as everyone at the Port knows him, started American Marine when his previous employer, Capt. Heiner Popp, retired and closed his firm of the same name. He had worked for Popp for 18 years at the Port. Among Capt. Alok’s memorable assignments there was assisting the National Transportation Safety Board with its investigation of a fatal water taxi accident in the Inner Harbor 15 years ago.
American Marine continues as a marine survey and consulting firm that inspects and surveys ships to assess and report on their condition and that of the products on them. They might be called to assess vessels for prospective buyers or to survey structural damage after an accident.
The firm’s surveyors and engineers work on both ships and barges.
“Our success is mainly based on honesty and integrity, which are the key ingredients of an independent marine surveyor, plus hard work while serving our clients diligently,” said Capt. Alok. “These help us to succeed with repeated assignments.”
Capt. Alok goes to great lengths to maintain that honesty and integrity. When a major U.S. coal exporter faced a potential million-dollar claim from a customer in Ireland, he went to an Irish port to carry out a joint draft survey with surveyors from Ireland and England. He was able to prove that draft surveys done in Baltimore accurately represented the amount of tonnage shipped, nullifying the claim.
The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) also contributes to the firm’s success. “Thousands of ships and barges call the Port of Baltimore every year,” Capt. Alok explained. “The Port of Baltimore is equipped with infrastructure as well as experienced, well-qualified personnel to attract business from various parts of the world. We attend all kinds of vessels — more vessels mean more business for us.”
Capt. Alok described some of the range of projects his firm tackles:
- Cargo damage due to heavy weather to mitigate the loss between parties;
- Draft surveys to determine the weight of cargo loaded and discharged to provide the quantity that determines how much both the buyer and seller have to pay each other in addition to the correct amount of freight charged by shipping lines, which is based on tonnage carried;
- Off-hire/on-hire bunker surveys that calculate the amount of heavy and diesel fuel on board before
and after a charter to determine fuel charges;
- Fuel assessments to calculate the amount of fuel/diesel oil supplied by a barge.
American Marine personnel will oversee heavy-lift operations during which 300-ton pieces are loaded or discharged. This includes ensuring that proper certified gears are used for the operation, that the load can be properly secured on shipboard and in rail cars or trucks, and acting as a go-between with the vessel’s officers, explained Capt. Alok and Alex Spinelli, Project Cargo Manager of American Marine.
While completing these tasks, American Marine’s engineers and surveyors also keep a careful eye on environmental hazards, watching for oil spills, garbage dumps and signs of pollution in dock water. “We attend bunker delivery surveys for a smooth transfer of fuel oil from barges to vessels, making sure all safety protocols are maintained strictly for any spillage that could potentially contaminate the Bay water,” said Capt. Alok.
American Marine counts among its many clients some of the major lines to call at the Port: Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions, Atlantic Container Line (ACL), Spliethoff Lines and CNH Industrial. Ports America Chesapeake, MDOT MPA, Host Terminals, Rukert Terminals, Canton Terminal and all major U.S. coal exporters are also among their clients. The firm surveys cargo for underwriters, cargo owners and others with vested interests in such shipments.
In addition, while acting as Port captains, the company takes charge of loading/discharging cargo from ships and serves as a liaison between local stevedores and vessel officers. They make sure that a vessel’s stability and draft limitations are good for sailing. Knowing the local Port rules and regulations of stevedores, Port captains help their clients save thousands of dollars.
American Marine has four full-time employees in addition to Capt. Alok, who is an ex-master of ocean-going ships with more than 33 years of experience as a marine surveyor and consultant. The firm also has five part-time employees. “Our employees are highly qualified merchant ship officers/engineers and very experienced surveyors,” he said.
Just as hard work, honesty and integrity are American Marine’s keys to success, paying attention to client feedback and watching industry trends keeps them poised for the future. Capt. Alok sees new ship designs, new methods to secure cargo and gears, and increased computerization of cranes, gears (equipment) and navigation systems in that future.
“Success is not only measured by past achievements,” said Capt. Alok. “It is the future that brings it and we strive for the same with honesty and integrity.”
American Marine & Cargo Inc. At-A-Glance
2700 Broening Highway
Shed No. 6
Principal Surveyor: Capt. Alok Praharaj
Employees: 5 full time, 5 part time