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VENTURA COUNTY

Police Quell Harbor Scuffle

Labor: Picketing dockworkers confront deckhands when they try to untie a ship to leave Port of Hueneme. No one is arrested.

October 03, 2002|SANDRA MURILLO and GREGORY W. GRIGGS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The four-day lockout at the Port of Hueneme turned ugly Wednesday when angry picketers tried to prevent a banana-carrying ship from leaving the dock, provoking a confrontation that brought out police in riot gear.

The commotion erupted about 2:30 p.m. when picketers tried to stop deckhands on the Del Monte ship from drawing its moorings as the vessel prepared to leave for Ensenada, Mexico. Dimitrio Kozcov, a deckhand, was surrounded by angry dockworkers who shouted and shoved him.

"They scared me," said Kozcov of Latvia. "They kept saying 'This is not your job!' "

About 40 Oxnard and Port Hueneme officers, outfitted in riot gear and armed with batons and pepper spray, responded and quickly broke up the confrontation. No arrests were made.

To picketers like Siupolu Belaustegui, the deckhands' actions were a sign of disrespect to longshoremen involved in a labor dispute with the association representing shippers. Releasing a ship's moorings is a longshoreman's job, she said.

"We didn't think they were going to pull that on us," said the Oxnard resident. "That's why we put a stop to it. No one's going to come in and do our job."

The flare-up occurred as union negotiators were bargaining with Pacific Maritime Assn. representatives in San Francisco over what to do about perishable cargo stalled at ports, said Janet Ritza, secretary-treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 46, which represents area dockworkers. Pacific Maritime represents the shippers.

Ritza said workers picketing near the port entrance noticed that the crew of the banana ship violated union work rules while preparing the ship for departure.

"They sent the ship's crew out to undo the line. We consider that our job," Ritza said. "So we tried to stop them."

Officials at Local 46 later conferred with their leaders in San Francisco, she said, and learned they could not legally prevent the ship from leaving.

Police also had no authority to keep the ship dockside. But a Del Monte official told the ship's captain to remain at port and the commotion quickly died down.

"It's Del Monte's call. The company decided that it's not worth it. They didn't want anybody to get hurt," said Will Berg, marketing director of the Oxnard Harbor District. "They did the cool-headed thing and decided to leave the ship there."

The only other commercial ship tied up at the port, the Cefalonia, is carrying liquid fertilizer for use by local growers on strawberry fields and in orange and lemon orchards.

A refrigerated LauritzenCool ship carrying Bonita bananas, anchored outside the port earlier this week, left Tuesday afternoon to unload its cargo at a port in Ensenada.

Berg estimates the harbor district will lose about $22,000 in fees that would have come from that ship unloading in Ventura County. Some of that money would have come from the subsequent loading of about 60,000 boxes of Sunkist Growers citrus to be shipped to Japan.

On Wednesday, a Wallenius Wilhelmsen vessel hauling 1,459 import vehicles remained anchored near the port. A second car carrier loaded with about 1,500 Mitsubishis, originally expected to arrive offshore Wednesday, was stalled in Tacoma, Wash.

Union officials said they would continue 24-hour picketing but hoped there would be no further confrontations with police.

About 90 minutes after the initial incident, the deckhands were back on their ship and picketers resumed chanting "Teamsters!" and "America No. 1."

"Welcome to America!" yelled one longshoreman.

"Yeah, welcome to America," shouted another, "but you can't take our jobs!"

When most of the dockworkers had left the area near the boat, Kozcov descended from his ship to ask a favor.

Crew members wanted to come down to eat and walk around. But they wanted to be sure the picketers wouldn't attack them.

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