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By Mark-Alexander Pieper

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Oct. 7, 2002 - Pacific Sunday News/PINA Nius Online)---The United States military is willing to assist Guam if the labor lockout at West Coast USA ports continues beyond this weekend, Delegate Robert Underwood said.

Underwood, Guam's representative in the American congress, spoke with top military officers.

They said they would explore the possibility of loading and transporting civilian cargo on vessels normally used for shipping goods to Hawaii and Guam military installations.

About 80 percent of Guam's food and as much as 95 percent of all goods the island needs go through West Coast USA ports, island business and port officials have said.

Underwood said the military contracts ships to carry cargo to its military installations.

"(They) assured me that if this does become a prolonged action that we would never be faced with a dire shortage," said Underwood, in telephone call from Hawaii.

The 29 commercial ports from San Diego to Seattle were closed more than a week ago after employers said a series of union slowdowns had cut productivity by more than half. The Pacific Maritime Association locked out workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Representatives of dockworkers and management were expected to meet with a federal mediator for a third consecutive day.

The Pacific Maritime Association granted Hawaii an exemption from the West Coast port lockout. Hawaii imports 90 percent of its goods.

The association also agreed to hire longshoremen to load Alaska-bound cargo ships at the Port of Tacoma.

It takes two weeks to transport cargo between western U.S. ports and Guam. The ships that are carrying Guam's supplies for next week left the West Coast before the lockout began.

Ocean carriers Matson Navigation and CSX Lines make weekly stops on Guam from western ports, allowing island stores to replenish their produce weekly.

Guam will continue to receive goods from ships up until the end of next week, but after next weekend the island may see some shortages in fresh produce.

Business experts have said that Guam inventory for non-perishable items can last at least 30 days. Even without shipments from the West Coast, dry goods can come from other sources closer to home, such as Asia.

Underwood said that if the military has to start transporting foods for Guam, it will charge some sort of fee.

"This is not a disaster relief situation. It is a business situation," he said.

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