Shipping-wrecked: Pols and longshoremen say feds killing Red Hook port

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The Feds will put another nail in the coffin of Brooklyn’s once-proud shipping industry by sending a team of customs inspectors in Red Hook packing, according to Brooklyn longshoremen who fear government bean counters are speeding the death of their industry.

United States Customs Agents plan to end hand inspections at the Red Hook Container Terminal, a move that will make it more expensive for producers to ship to the borough — putting 700 jobs on the line — say local pols.

“This decision could kill jobs and create a major competitive disadvantage for the Red Hook Terminal,” said Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge).

Under the plan, which could be in effect within a couple of months, shipments requiring hand inspections would be hauled to terminals in either New Jersey or Staten Island. After the cargo is cleared there, it would be shipped to the final destination. But pols and waterfront stakeholders warn that the added time needed could hurt the bottom line of those who ship to Brooklyn.

“It would definite hurt shipping in Red Hook,” said Greg Brayman, vice president of Phoenix Beverages, whose business at the terminal represents about 40 percent of the total shipments into Red Hook and who says that shipments of beer from Latin America fall under extra close scrutiny.

But Customs officials claim that the measure would speed up the inspections process — and save money.

“This move would improve productivity, [and] be cost-effective,” said Anthony Bucci, an agency spokesman.

Each year, Customs officials hand-inspect roughly 3,800 containers at the port — only six percent of the total 59,000 shipments that came into last year, according to the New York Times — though all shipments are scanned, said Bucci.

Bucci said that all shipments would still be inspected in some form in Red Hook, but declined to comment on the potential economic loss for Brooklyn if the plan goes through, and could not say how many customs agents would be reassigned to other ports. He added that not all shipments requiring a hand inspection would need to leave Red Hook, as inspectors could be sent there in a pinch.

The Red Hook port receives 3 million pounds of bananas from Ecuador each week along with the beer, as well as shipments from Saudi Arabia and France.

It’s not the first time in recent months that a government agency as changed operations at the Red Hook port: American Stevedoring, the longtime operator of the terminal, was evicted last year after a contentious legal battle with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The port is now run by Brayman and his father, said Joe Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association.

The agency initially wanted to shut down the inspections on Jan. 6, but postponed its decision for 90 days after pols pressured officials to reconsider the plan.

The decline of the shipping industry in Brooklyn started in the 1970s, when companies started transporting goods in containers instead of the smaller palettes, said Curto. The move allowed larger shipments, but required huge swaths of land to store all the containers.

“Containers need big storage yards. It’s hard to deliver that type of land for storage and operation in Brooklyn,” said Curto, adding that many shippers started unloading in New Jersey, where it was easier to build 350-acre shipping yards. “The cargo went to facilities where the land was.”

The Port Authority has also been trying to move shipping operations to Sunset Park — the head of the agency said in October that the Red Hook space should be abandoned to make room for hotels and other developments.

Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at or by calling him at (718) 260-4507. You can also follow his Tweets at
Updated 5:30 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

George Fiala from Red Hook says:
There's a lot of stuff missing from this story, but one highly misleading item is in the end, where you fail to say that the person from the Port Authority who made that statement is Chris Ward - the FORMER head of the PA (and one-time American Stevedoring GM, as well as someone who probably has aspirations to run for mayor and needs the support of the wealthy real estate barons.
Feb. 13, 2012, 11:42 am
Moses from Park Slope says:
Weak headline.
Feb. 13, 2012, 9:13 pm
Buttermilk Channel from West Red Hook says:
Everone needs to calm down and let nature take its course - remember survival of the fittest.

The container yard is going to Sunset Park where there's some space, a short rail that connects to LI rail, where real major industry can receive it and where business can breathe without having its every move scrutinized and threatened with conversion.

Jobs are not suppose to consume tax dollars, they are suppose to create tax dollars! Sorry guys, no free rides.
Feb. 13, 2012, 9:41 pm
Brad Kerr from Columbia Waterfront says:
Buttermilk Channel: One day the port may go to Sunset Park, but it will probably take a lot of public dollars to get there. Competition isn't the only force in nature; there's plenty of cooperation, too.
Feb. 13, 2012, 10:13 pm
JB from frankfurt says:
Good riddance. Get the container port out of Red Hook.
Feb. 13, 2012, 11:40 pm
Water Rat from the Sixth Borough says:
This is a preposterously uninformed story. What happened to the Brooklyn Paper from the days of "It's not just the Nets"?

STOP referring to what happened with containerization in the 1970s and start learning about future transportation directions, about short sea shipping, about bringing goods closer to their final destination by water, about freight ferries within the city or used to bypass the I95 congestion.

The point of the Red Hook port is not about maintaining the jobs here (though jobs are a good thing), it's value lies in it's being an east of Hudson port that could be used as a traffic mitigator for trucking into the city and Long Island.

Or if you can't be bothered to learn maritime affairs at all, don't even try to report context.
Feb. 14, 2012, 8:19 am

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