MACV Observer 1969
SAIGON (VIFS) -- Saigon is the busiest port in Southeast Asia. Two years ago it was so jammed with undelivered cargo and idle ships waiting for berths that frustrated importers joked ruefully that they could walk across the Saigon River without getting their feet wet.
Saigon Port is still the regions busiest, but ships and cargo are moving freely. Cargo now pours from the ships' holds at a rate averaging five million tons a year. This transformation from near chaos to smooth efficiency has enabled the Republic of Vietnam's primary international anchorage to operate at a sustained pace about equal to that of Long Beach, Americats port for the sprawling Los Angeles area. The Saigon river front's transformation resulted from a number of factors, including streamlining of Port Authority administrative procedures under the highly qualified Saigon Port Director General, LTC Pho Quoc Chu, who was succeeded on his recent death by the equally competent MAI Tran Thien Phuong, appointed by the Vietnamese government. Also contributing to the port's rejuvenation were Increased material and technical aid from Vietnam's allies in the wake of the port clogging logistics crisis of 1966; a new sense of purpose and dedication on the part of Vietnamese personnel, from longshoremen to administrators, following the communists' Tet offensive of February 1968; and adoption of mechanized methods to unload cargo and speed deliveries.
A Glutted Port
Built originally to handle about three million tons of cargo annually, Saigon Port was operating well, even with non mechanized stevedoring methods, prior to the massive build-up of American Troops and stockpiles starting in mid 1965. When Washington launched one of the greatest logistics operations in history, Saigon Port became glutted by the sudden influx of tonnage, a tenfold increase of up to 10,000 tons a day. New Saigon berths were needed, and they were constructed. But berthing facilities were not the only problems plaguing Port Authority officials. Longshoremen's methods were too far behind the times to meet modem war's requirements. With help from USAID some 300 items of cargo handling equipment were imported. Also acquired in the U.S. and in neighboring Asian ports were 35,000 pallets and 13,000 tons of additional barge and lighter capacity. Probably the most important labor-saving device to help speed up loading and unloading of cargoes," says USAID's port operations chief, Orlando A. Martin, was the use of the pallet. Palletization simply means that you take cargo and pick it up with a mechanized forklift. Before this, everything was handled box by box.
Already in effect at the time of the Tet offensive was the new control system instituted by the Vietnamese government and USAID to account for grant aid cargo from ships' holds to "first destination"
warehouses in the Saigon area, delivery losses were cut to a fraction of one percent. Additional control systems have been instituted to trace cargoes, not only from ships' holds to "first destination" warehouses, but to the ultimate end users in the provinces. "The joint accountability system from ship to warehouse is air-tight, and from warehouse to province and district nearly so," says Robert Crownover, USAID's assistant director for logistics. "We can describe it as optimum in that it would cost much more for the additional personnel it would take to guarantee delivery to every individual user and recipient than the value of the actual loss in final delivery." With the current work of the port describable as a resupply mission the escalation period of tremendously stepped-up imports is well passed now--U.S.Army and USAID advisers are concentrating on training programs, management improvement projects and data processing systems to insure that never again will Saigon Port go through a congestion crisis like 1966's. LTC Donald D. Screen's commercial port management advisory office of the 125th U.S.Army Transportation Command and Martin's USAID port operations office are cooperating in the advisory functions, with the Army concentrating on management and port operations and with USAID particularly concerned with development of port resources. Saigon Is a war port, and security is an ever present problem. Perpetual watch must be kept to prevent possible communist sabotage of ships, booby trapping of cargoes or mine laying in the river. Vietnamese and American harbor police, navy mine sweepers, helicopters and other craft and men constantly patrol the river, day and night. After dark searchlights and flares light up the river, its swampy banks and busy wharves. Patrol boats control the flow of traffic in and out of the port.
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