March 10, 2010

Showdown on Portland HarborCONTINUED FROM THE FRONT PAGE/NATION

JOHN RICHARDSON

— By

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Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer This is a two-line cutline that goes here, and that’s what still goes here, and that’s what still goes here. s fgn sfgh mnsf hgn mfhg nmf hm hfg mdf ghm ghm dgh m dghj ,mdg j,m dgj ,mgj ,m gj, gj ,m gj mdgf hm djg ,md,m djmd gjh ,mdgjh ,mdgjh m, dgj,mgdj,Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer......Thursday, September 3, 2009...Arthur Fournier, a long-time tug boat captain and docking pilot in Portland Harbor, has started a new company with his two sons, Doug (left) and Pat, to compete with the fleet of tugs he sold about 8 years ago.

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer This is a two-line cutline that goes here, and that’s what still goes here, and that’s what still goes here. AND STORY STUFF TO FILL TWO LINES GOES HERE PLEASE dfgs dhgf mdgh m gh mdgh m dgh md gh,m dgh ,dgh d ghm dhg dhg m Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer......Thursday, September 3, 2009...Arthur Fournier, a long-time tug boat captain and docking pilot in Portland Harbor, has started a new company with his two sons to compete with the fleet of tugs he sold about 8 years ago. The two Fournier tugs pull out into the Fore River enroute to escorting a cargo ship out of Portland Harbor.

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Staff Writer

Arthur Fournier has had a long and colorful career moving ships in and out of harbors from New York to Belfast.

He built much of that success by moving in on someone else's territory, then taking their business.

Now Fournier is at it again, this time with an unusual twist. He's taking on a company led by his own son.

Fournier, who is 78, has started a new tugboat and ship docking company in Portland Harbor. His partners are his two youngest sons, Doug and Patrick, each of whom also runs a branch of the family business in other ports.

Fournier's competition is Portland Tugboat LLC, the company he sold to a New York-based tug operator in 2001 for $9 million. The business has guided the vast majority of ship traffic in and out of the harbor since the late 1980s, when Fournier essentially drove out the previous tugboat fleet.

Until this summer, Fournier had a good relationship with his former company. The new owners kept his son Brian as president and continued to use both Arthur and Brian Fournier as docking pilots, the licensed captains who ride aboard all tankers and freighters as tugs guide them to and from the docks.

That relationship ended abruptly in July, when Fournier and his other sons arrived with tugboats from Massachusetts and started offering lower rates for moving and docking ships.

Fournier stopped working as a state-licensed docking pilot with his former company, and became the sole pilot attached to his newest venture, Fournier's Portland Towing and Ship Service Inc.

The new rivalry has not escalated into the kinds of threats or violence that spice some of Fournier's stories of past exploits. But there is clearly tension around the harbor, and -- so far -- two lawsuits with dueling accusations of foul play.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in July, Portland Tugboat complained that Fournier used a virtually identical business name to confuse customers and take business.

In the other, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court last month, Fournier accused his son Brian of defaming his reputation by telling customers that he is incompetent as a pilot.

''We have had great relations with Arthur until the day he announced he was going to go into competition with us,'' said Brian McAllister, president of McAllister Towing, the owner of Portland Tugboat.

''It's a little difficult to understand why he would do it without any notice or anything. ... It's not like boom times right here.''

A QUESTION OF TIMING

The slowdown in the shipping business -- it's down as much as 20 to 30 percent in various ports, sources say -- may have something to do with Fournier's timing.

A sharp decline in traffic through the Cape Cod Canal has allowed the tugboats, and Patrick Fournier, to spend more time in Portland.

And, Fournier said, some shipping companies were unhappy with a rate hike this summer by McAllister.

''We're here by popular demand,'' Fournier said.

But Fournier and his sons say the primary motivation was to make sure that Doug and Patrick can be trained as pilots in Portland Harbor. It takes years of on-board apprenticeship to get the state license and, they say, they weren't going to if McAllister controlled all of the tugs.

''I want to continue the family legacy,'' said Doug Fournier, who is 28 and his father's next apprentice pilot.

Brian Fournier declined to talk about the business rivalry because of the legal issues, although he acknowledged that it has gone beyond business as usual.

''It's my father. He served me papers with a defamation suit,'' he said. ''I wish my father luck, that's all I can say.''

Brian Fournier may have been as surprised as anyone by his father's decision to compete with him, but he never expected his father to simply retire.

''He's never going to rest,'' he said.

The clash is being watched all around the harbor. But shipping agents, port officials and others contacted for this story would not comment, let alone choose sides.

David Winslow, a former business partner of Fournier's, said the elder Fournier simply likes making waves.

''He definitely likes to stir things up,'' Winslow said. ''There'll never be grass growing under his feet.''

STIRRING UP THE WATER

Arthur Fournier has been stirring things up in the tugboat business for more than 50 years.

He went to work on coal barges out of Boston, where he grew up, when he was about 15.

He got his first tugboat several years later, a salvaged boat that he outfitted with the engine from a Greyhound bus, and moved barges in Boston and New York. It was in Boston, while he was towing trash barges -- and making a lot of money -- that he acquired one of his more legendary, and often-told, stories.

''June 22, 1972,'' he said.

He was going to meet a guy on a pier in Boston when he was ambushed, he said. He struggled with the three men and ended up getting shot 12 times, he said.

He also was carrying a handgun, and he put several bullets into one of the assailants before they left, he said.

''They didn't know I carried,'' he said. ''I die hard.''

Fournier later got tug work at the Bath Iron Works shipyards in Bath and then Portland. In 1985, he went head to head with Moran Towing in Portland Harbor and undercut his rival's price until Moran left three years later.

As the longtime senior pilot in Portland Harbor, Fournier was a driving force behind new state license requirements that include 250 dockings as an apprentice.

Fournier brought his sons into the tugboat business at an even younger age than he was when he started.

His oldest son, Billy, was a tug captain when he died in a barge accident in 1985 when he went to help a crew member who had collapsed in an oxygen-deficient compartment.

There was no minimum age limit to drive tugs less than 26 feet long, and Brian, Doug and Patrick drove tugs around Portland Harbor long before they could drive a car. They even got a job moving barges carrying the huge girders that now hold up the Casco Bay Bridge.

''That was in middle school,'' Doug Fournier said. ''People were skeptical, but we did the job.''

Arthur Fournier sold his Portland fleet of seven tugboats to McAllister in December 2001 for $9 million, according to court records. It appeared to be a step toward retirement. Fournier would no longer run the tug business but would still be part of a three-man rotation of docking pilots.

Docking pilots climb aboard the ships and use their local knowledge to command the vessels and the tugs as they move through the inner harbor. It's a lucrative job and one with great responsibility, given that modern tankers can hold as much as 40 million gallons of oil.

About 30 ships a month call on Portland Harbor, each hiring a tug crew and a docking pilot.

Fees vary widely depending on ship size, but a large oil tanker can pay $3,000 or more for piloting fees during its visit. Tugboat fees can range from $5,000 to $10,000 or more.

MORE FOURNIER PILOTS

When he sold his tugs in 2001, Fournier signed a no-compete clause with McAllister. It expired three years ago.

Fournier said he decided to start the new company after it became clear that his two younger sons wouldn't get a shot at piloting as long as McAllister owned all of the tugs.

''They decided they wanted to control the pilots and not let another Fournier get a leg up on them,'' Fournier said.

McAllister executives, however, said they were unaware that the younger Fourniers wanted to pilot tankers in Portland Harbor.

And, they said, it was Arthur Fournier who made the decisions about who to bring on as apprentice pilots.

Brian McAllister said the company's investments, including the Andrew McAllister, a new $10 million, 6,000-horsepower firefighting tug, will help it keep the business of shipping companies.

''Over these seven years we've invested more than double what we paid Arthur for the fleet ... at the request of the shipping community,'' McAllister said.

McAllister has had to renegotiate some deals with customers since the new company's arrival, according to court documents. But it intends to hold its ground.

''(Portland Harbor) is not a port that's ever had more than one guy in it,'' McAllister said. ''We've looked at it and we're going to stay.''

McAllister is careful not to publicly criticize Fournier, given the defamation case. But he hints that it's time for his new rival to pass the torch.

''He and I are very close to the same age,'' said McAllister, who is 77. ''My sons are trying to get me to retire. I can't understand a guy who's trying to start in brand new.''

Arthur Fournier doesn't like to tell his age, at least not since the competition has allegedly been raising questions about his ability to dock giant tankers. But it's no secret around the harbor, where the joke goes that Fournier was the pilot who docked Noah's ark.

Neither the Coast Guard, which issues federal captain's licenses, nor the Board of Harbor Commissioners, which oversees state pilot's licenses, has any age limit for pilots. Pilots must periodically update their training and continue working with good safety records to maintain their licenses.

Age isn't a concern for Fournier, who brushes off any talk of retiring and seems as restless as ever.

''If you can't climb up 30 rungs of a pilot's ladder alongside a ship, you're not going to be a pilot,'' he said. ''Thirty rungs gets you to the deck. Then you've got to climb seven stories (of stairs) to get to the bridge.''

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer This is a two-line cutline that goes here, and that’s what still goes here, and that’s what still goes here. s fgn sfgh mnsf hgn mfhg nmf hm hfg mdf ghm ghm dgh m dghj ,mdg j,m dgj ,mgj ,m gj, gj ,m gj mdgf hm djg ,md,m djmd gjh ,mdgjh ,mdgjh m, dgj,mgdj,Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer......Thursday, September 3, 2009...Arthur Fournier, a long-time tug boat captain and docking pilot in Portland Harbor, has started a new company with his two sons, Doug (left) and Pat, to compete with the fleet of tugs he sold about 8 years ago.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Thursday, September 3, 2009...Arthur Fournier, a long-time tug boat captain and docking pilot in Portland Harbor, has started a new company with his two sons to compete with the fleet of tugs he sold about 8 years ago. The Fournier's two tug boats moves down the Fore River to escort the cargo ship "Bright Express" (in background) out of Portland Harbor.

 


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