- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - His roots in Tampa’s shipping industry date back more than 150 years, when Arthur Savage’s great-great-grandfather, Capt. James McKay Sr., ran blockades during the Civil War and founded commercial shipping on Florida’s west coast.

Shipping is so ingrained in Savage’s DNA that with little effort, he can name just about everything that moves off Tampa’s waters.

And that’s a good thing, because business is on the upswing.

Port Tampa Bay experienced a 17 percent increase in ships coming in during 2014 and is marketing to grow its business domestically and internationally. The importance of ship agents such as A.R. Savage & Son LLC grows right along with the port, said Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development at Port Tampa Bay.

“Every ship coming in needs a contact in the port, in the community that has relationships with all the key players,” Wade said.

A.R. Savage has been handling ship traffic at the port for 70 years, since the time the state established it.

“People these days want to turn a switch and see things happen,” Savage said.

A.R. Savage & Son is one of those switches.

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Standing on the bridge of the 93-foot tugboat Patriot, Savage describes each ship docked along the banks of Sparkman Channel offloading cargo on land his family knows intimately.

Ships don’t just cruise into Port Tampa Bay and unload cargo. As part of his job as a ship agent, Savage employs the tugboat to escort his client ships into berths. He and his employees know when ships are coming into the port, what they’re carrying, how many workers to hire for the ship to load or unload and what paperwork they’ll need to fill out for the crew so it can operate legally from a U.S. port.

In addition to tugboats, the ships need line handlers, offloaders, fuel, spare parts and crew supplies. And they need someone to coordinate all of it. Savage & Son is one of several companies providing ship agents to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

____ The knowledge Savage exudes springsfrom his personal experience as a ship’s captain, his time as a teenager escorting his father’s customers around the port and as a tugboat captain.

He is the fourth captain of the port’s oldest ship agency, started by his grandfather, A.R. Savage Sr., then run by his father, William O. Savage and his mother, Shirley McKay Savage Knight, who stood at the helm for 17 years until 1999.

Savage & Son, a privately held company with 12 employees, dates back to 1945, the same year the state formed the Tampa Port Authority.

Licensed ship agents basically transact and supervise all of a ship’s business while it is in port. Without them, ships coming into port would be dead in the water. There are 22 such businesses operating out of Port Tampa Bay and hundreds throughout the country.

“It’s a lot of moving parts,” Savage said. With today’s fast pace, and with so many vendors and employers to coordinate, a ship’s crew would be hard-pressed to conduct business without an agent. And it must be able to trust that the agent will not only coordinate services but pay for those services on its behalf.

A.R. Savage & Son is certified as a ship agent through the Association of Ship Brokers and Agents (ASBA), based in New Jersey. After a series of high-profile bankruptcies among ship agents a decade ago, the association began its self-certification program, which requires businesses to undergo an annual accounting review and attest to their ability to handle a ship’s monetary affairs, said Jeanne Cardona, executive director of the association. A.R. Savage & Son is one of 30 agents certified through ASBA.

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Savage carries a checklist of ships arriving and departing the port. The list dates out through April and tells the company which ships are coming and when, what they’ll be carrying and where they are going when they leave the port. The ships carry everything from ethanol to jet fuel, gasoline, orange juice, even aluminum ingots from Russia.

The Coastal, coming in from New Orleans, brings in coal, then carries out phosphate, heading back to Louisiana. The Gunila, a Swedish school ship carrying students around the world, spends several weeks here, and A.R. Savage & Son helps coordinate the stay. The Coastal 101/Louisiana brings coal in for Tampa Electric Co.’s Big Bend Power Station, and the Tiger Anhui comes from Mexico, loads up Mosaic Co. fertilizer and hits the high seas for Australia.

The Balsa 87 arrived in port recently to load 5,500 tons of monocalcium phosphate, an animal feed supplement the Cuban government purchases through Port Tampa Bay several times a year, then ships to Havana.

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Savage has seen a lot growing up at Port Tampa Bay. “As a youth, my grandfather and father would take me down to the office on the weekends where I would see the blackboard with all the ships that were either in port, at anchor or inbound. It always fascinated me, with the different names, where they were coming from, where they were going and what cargoes they were carrying.”

On weekends, he’d carry customers in the family boat to tour the port or take them fishing. “I would be baiting the hook of a Japanese one weekend, a German the next and someone from South America the following.”

By the age of 16, Savage started working on the company tugboat in his free time.

During his youth, Savage’s parents often entertained ship owners and other dignitaries at their home. “I was very fortunate to be exposed to different nationalities, cultures and religions from around the world.”

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When William Savage died in 1982, his son already had his tugboat captain’s license, then went to sea to get his master’s license, returning to the office in 1984. His mother took over the business at a time when most in the shipping industry weren’t so used to working with a woman.

“The principals preferred to talk to me because they weren’t used to speaking to a woman in the business,” Savage recalled. “She soon proved that she was more than capable and gained their trust.”

Tampa native Shirley McKay Savage Knight, whose great-grandfather was Capt. James McKay, for whom McKay Bay is named, became a decorated CEO. During her tenure at the helm of Savage & Son, she was named Maritime Person of the Year, served as consul to Denmark and Norway and in 2002, she received the Captain James McKay Lifetime Achievement Award for the Port of Tampa. She and her son together received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Propeller Club of the United States honoring three generations of the Savage family for its efforts to bring business to the port.

“She had a lasting impact on the port,” said John Thorington, port vice president of government affairs and board coordination. “She did that job magnificently and superbly. She always treated people with respect and grace. She set a very high standard.”

It is a standard Savage said he works to maintain. Among his employees are two maritime academy graduates, one a boarding agent and one who does accounting for all client ships. Some of the other Savage & Son employees started at the bottom, learned the business and worked their way up the ladder, Savage said.

“Ships rely on us in deciding who are the best companies and vendors to handle their needs, and that’s what we do.”

Because the company is privately held, Savage opted not to share what it charges clients for its services.

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A lot has changed through the years, Savage said. “When I was growing up and well before, the majority of the people in the city were natives and many were connected with the port. Everyone knew the city was built as a result of the port, so everybody appreciated its importance.”

Since then, cargo has changed from a lot of phosphate rock, coal, newsprint and cement to some newer products like citrus pulp pellets for animal feed, containers and liquified petroleum gas. There is new foreign port competition and the average ship size has increased dramatically, Savage said. With the Great Recession, too, there were years when fewer ships and cargo came in, he said.

But that appears to be turning around with the economy on the rebound, according to port President and CEO Paul Anderson, who in his State of the Port address last month noted growth in both the number of ships and cargo tonnage.

Savage credits the recent upswing to the efforts of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., which has been working to bring new business here. He also credits the collaboration among Tampa International Airport, the Tampa Port Authority and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce working in concert to drive both imports and exports for this area.

“It is our hope,” Savage said, “that the new port authority will continue its positive efforts and work even closer with the industries it serves to bring a positive future for the port.”

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Information from: The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, https://www.tampatrib.com


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