TAEGU, South Korea — The first commercial ships to be allowed use of a U.S. military pier in bustling Pusan are set to arrive this weekend.

They’ll be docked at Pier 8, a U.S. Army installation run by the 837th Transportation Battalion (Terminal), known as the “Kargo Kings.”

The commercial container ships will use the pier under a February agreement between the Army and Pusan’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. While the pier is South Korean property, the Army has “exclusive use” under the U.S.-South Korea status of forces agreement.

As Pusan has grown to be the world’s third-largest container shipping port in recent years, a shortage of available berths has ensued, said Army Lt. Col Jim Brundage, the Kargo Kings’ commanding officer.

But because Pier 8 has been used only for U.S. military shipments, it typically sees far less traffic than its South Korean commercial counterparts and has often seen useful space go idle.

That led to February’s deal, which will allow a limited number of container ships to put in at the pier for quick discharge or pick-up of containers.

“This increases their ability here in the Port of Pusan by utilizing the military berthing that for all intents and purposes is under-utilized in peacetime,” said Brundage.

The U.S. military benefits, too, Brundage said.

“Our relationship with MOMAF is very important because that is the agency that will allocate us berthing in support of our reinforcing the peninsula in the event of a contingency,” Brundage said.

The Army gets no money from the commercial traffic. Business transactions instead are between the commercial shippers and the International Stevedore Company, a private firm that works for the Army under contract at Pier 8.

The first ship, the MV Sunny Linden, is to arrive Saturday and discharge about 150 containers of general cargo, said Mark Rice, the Kargo Kings’ interim operations chief.

The limited commercial traffic will pose no disruption to military operations, Brundage said. Containers will be hauled away quickly “so at any time we would be able to cease the operation and be able to commence military operations with only a very, very short transition period.”

Personnel entering Pier 8 for commercial operations will be screened and military sections will be off-limits.

Making it tougher for any potential terrorists, commercial ships will have very short notice that they’re to berth at Pier 8. The containers will be on the pier only a short time before being trucked off or put aboard outgoing vessels.

“The military traffic will still take precedence,” said Rice. “But because we don’t have a ship every day, every week, this is an opportunity to help … relieve some of this ship traffic congestion of ships waiting for a berth.”

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