Another Blow to Brooklyn Shipping as Red Hook Loses Customs Inspectors

02/14/2012 8:59 AM |

These cranes will be handling even fewer shipping containers soon.

  • These cranes will be handling even fewer shipping containers soon.

The stars seem to be slowly aligning for a gradual shutdown of Red Hook’s shipping container terminal. First there was last fall’s news that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had finally ousted long-time terminal operator American Stevedoring and installed newcomer Phoenix Beverage Co. with a one-year contract; and in late-October two plans for real estate and hotel developments at the terminal and in an adjacent former warehouse were revived. And now the latest in speculative shipping terminal closure signals: a team of customs agents based at the Van Brunt Street terminal are being moved elsewhere, jeopardizing international shipments arriving at Red Hook—including a great deal of Latin American beer. Soon, your cervezas will be arriving via Staten Island and New Jersey instead.

The United States Customs Agents had originally planned to remove a team of customs agents from the Red Hook Container Terminal on January 6, the Brooklyn Paper reports, but postponed the move 90 days in response to fears from local politicians that it could jeopardize as many as 700 local jobs.

Currently the customs inspectors working at the Red Hook terminal do hand inspections on roughly 3,800 shipments arriving there every year. That includes the large quantities of Latin American beer being imported by new terminal operators Phoenix Beverages, whose activities account for about 40 percent of all shipping in Red Hook.

Under the new arrangement, shipments destined for Brooklyn but requiring hand inspections would have to go through competing ports in New Jersey and Staten Island where customs agents are stationed, and then be brought to the borough, most likely by truck. Anthony Bucci, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs, says the move is aimed at achieving greater efficiency—”This move would improve productivity, [and] be cost-effective”—while Phoenix Beverages vice-president Greg Brayman says it will further reduce the Red Hook Terminal’s role: “It would definite [sic] hurt shipping in Red Hook.”

In addition to the beer it receives from Ecuador, the Red Hook Terminal also gets weekly shipments of bananas from that country, and other international imports from France and Saudi Arabia. It’s unclear how many of those will have to be diverted elsewhere when the customs agents leave Red Hook, but Bucci promises that, if necessary, hand inspections could still occur there as teams of inspectors can be dispatched to the terminal quickly. Congressman Michael Grimm—whose district includes much of Bay Ridge and all of Staten Island—offered a much more grim assessment: “This decision could kill jobs and create a major competitive disadvantage for the Red Hook Terminal.”

Follow Benjamin Sutton on Twitter @LMagArt