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Tampa port on oil carrier's list

Maritrans Inc., a Philadelphia company whose barges and tankers transport billions of gallons of oil from the coastline of Maine down to Texas, is considering making Tampa its home port.

Maritrans chairman and chief executive Stephen Van Dyck confirmed Wednesday that Tampa and at least one other Florida port are among five cities on a short list to become corporate headquarters. He would not name the other finalists but said a decision is likely within a month.

"Philadelphia isn't doing much to keep us," Van Dyck said in an interview while visiting Tampa Bay.

About 40 of Maritrans' 700 employees work out of its Philadelphia headquarters and would be directly affected by the move. The rest are scattered throughout the country, including about 13 in a small office at the Tampa port.

Founded 72 years ago and formerly called Interstate Ocean Transport, Maritrans now moves more than 10-billion gallons of oil and oil products along the eastern seaboard and across the Gulf of Mexico every year. On a typical day, its barges carry 10-million gallons of jet fuel into Florida's waterways.

The publicly traded company last year reported net income of $3.1-million on $152-million in revenues.

In the Tampa Bay area, Maritrans is perhaps best known for its part in the bay area's worst environmental disaster. The 1993 collision of two barges and a freighter at the mouth of Tampa Bay sparked a fiery oil spill, causing extensive damage along the Pinellas County shoreline.

Maritrans and two other companies involved agreed this year to pay $8-million to the state and federal government and do extensive environmental restoration.

"We obviously feel extremely bad about what happened," Van Dyck said, describing the accident as isolated. "We expect zero in terms of accidents and oil spills. That's the tolerance level for us."

The tarnished history in the bay area, he said, has no bearing on the relocation decision. The determining factor is economics.

In Philadelphia, Maritrans has been paying a 4.5 percent wage tax on top of a 2.5 percent state income tax. "There's a 7 percent disadvantage right off the top," Van Dyck said.

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