I believe the East Coast will begin to see bigger ships calling with greater frequency but at fewer ports; the ocean carriers simply can’t afford not to adapt. Although this will be a gradual change over the next three or four years, it’s basic economics for the ocean carriers: have one ship do the work of three without major disruptions in vessel rotations. It’s inevitable that part of this trend will be fewer East Coast port calls in their vessel rotations.
Knowing this, select East Coast ports and related state and federal transportation networks will have to be ready for large volumes of cargo coming at once as opposed to the steady flow of cargo brought by multiple calls of smaller vessels.
We got a glimpse of this in the days after Hurricane Sandy, when the Axel Maersk called here and offloaded all of its New York-New Jersey cargo in addition to its normal Virginia discharge. The result was a record for Virginia in terms of container moves for a single vessel: 4,736 TEUs. Over the course of the Axel’s almost 3 ½ days at berth, we handled the work, but it pushed our limits at the railyard, truck gates, with our work force and overall operations. In the end, it was a good test for what is to come.
Imagine a vessel with 7,000-plus moves and what will be required to handle that volume. Granted, there will be time to plan once the regular rotations are established, but ports and their infrastructure will be pushed to their limits. The chosen ports will prosper, but significant investment inside and outside of the gates will be required, and the federal government will ultimately have to pick the winners and losers.