Like the bottom lines of ocean carriers that mostly returned to the black, volume at most of the Top 25 North American ports turned positive last year as the global container trade rebounded from the Great Recession of 2009.
The growth in total volume of loaded containers came as a much-needed boost at all but one of the Top 25 ports. Only Tacoma, which lost calls by Maersk Line ships to nearby Seattle, actually lost ground in combined import and exports volume. In contrast with the period leading up to the recession, most U.S. and Canadian ports now say they have plenty of capacity to meet the increase in near-term demand.
Ports on all three coasts bounced back at vastly different rates, resulting in a shakeup in a few of the rankings of loaded container throughput as measured by PIERS, a sister company of The Journal of Commerce.
There also were signs of shifts in supply chains.
The top five ports in North America accounted for 56.1 percent of the additional 3.96 million TEUs that moved in and out of all of the continent’s ports in 2010 over the year before, concentrating more of the business as the continent’s largest ports. The concentration was more pronounced at the top five import ports — Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York-New Jersey, Port Metro Vancouver and Georgia Ports — added 1.6 million of the 2.69 million additional TEU volume that came to North America’s top 25 ports last year.
And ports in Mexico grew at a faster rate than their larger American and Canadian counterparts. In all, Mexico’s ports grew at more than double the rate of U.S. and Canadian ports for overall volume, although Mexico still accounts for only 7.8 percent of North American container volume.
At the top of the list, the top seven ports maintained their rankings in terms of combined import and export volume. But the Port of Seattle moved into eighth place from 10th place last year, fueled by Maersk Line’s move a few miles north. Seattle’s jump bumped Houston and Montreal down a notch in the ranking.
But the most dramatic surges in volume growth came at Mexican ports, where combined import and export volume jumped 25.7 percent, compared to 11.7 percent at U.S. ports and 12.1 percent at Canadian ports. Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas led the surge as both jumped up two places on the list (Story, page 35), fueled by the 40.2 percent volume gain in exports at Lazaro Cardenas.
The other two Mexican ports, Veracruz and Altamira, remained 18th and 21st, respectively. Manzanillo’s move up to 11th place knocked South Carolina Ports down to 12th place. The other two ports that moved down the list were Tacoma, which fell to 13th place from 12th in 2009, and the Delaware River ports, which slid two positions to No. 19.
Most ports are looking beyond the next year or so to focus efforts on expanding capacity to handle the long-term growth in throughput they expect to result from the ever-larger ships with ever-growing numbers of containers expected to call in years to come. The 2008-09 recession, which slowed or reversed the volume growth at all the Top 25 ports, actually gave many port authorities breathing room to catch up on plans to expand or enhance the capacity to handle the long-term growth they project.
On the West Coast, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle about 70 percent of the total coastal volume, are starting major new terminal projects now that they have largely satisfied the environmental protests that delayed expansion for years.
Los Angeles plans to spend more than $3 billion in the next two decades to deepen its access channel, expand marine terminals, add on-dock rail capacity and improve traffic flow through street and bridge improvements in the harbor area. It will add more than 200 acres to existing terminal space.
Projects under way or contemplated include a 500-care terminal at Pier 500, the addition of a berth to the existing China Shipping terminal, a wharf extension at the TraPac terminal, yard expansion at the APL terminal, and reconfiguration of the Yang Ming and Yusen terminals.
Long Beach plans to spend more than $4 billion in the next decade on projects such as replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge, enlarging the Pier G and Middle Harbor container terminals and constructing a new container terminal at Pier S. The $850 million Pier G redevelopment project will include filling in a slip and expanding the on-dock railyard to nearly double its capacity.
In Oakland, which also has little room to expand, Ports America is redeveloping the terminal it inherited through its merger with Marine Terminals Corp. The port has a request for proposals to develop the former Oakland Army Base next to the port as a trade and logistics center. Other infrastructure improvements include a five-year extension of the Evergreen Marine lease to 2018 with Evergreen spending $30 million on capital improvements and a lease extension with TraPac that includes $27 million in terminal improvements.
Ports in the Pacific Northwest, which already have plenty of capacity, are working on speeding throughput on their landsides.
Seattle, a mature port that has little room to expand in its downtown location, is working on improving throughput velocity at existing terminals by removing bottlenecks.
Seattle is cooperating with nearby Tacoma and state and local governments to improve its road and rail network and to market the two ports as a gateway for Asian cargo. Their cooperative effort mirrors Canada’s Pacific Gateway initiative.
Farther north, the 4-year old Port of Prince Rupert extended its dramatic expansion, with total volume soaring 32 percent in 2010 to 256,619 TEUs, good for 24th place on the Top 25 list. The port will get another bump this year, when China Ocean Shipping and Hanjin Shipping add trans-Pacific services.
About 500 miles south, Canada’s largest port, Port Metro Vancouver is developing a robust warehouse and transloading sector that provides value-added jobs and services. The rapid emergence of transloading is helping Vancouver achieve a balance between imports and exports, an advantage for ocean carriers seeking to fill ships in both directions.
East Coast ports that don’t have deep water are scrambling to nail down funding to deepen their harbors to 50 feet so they can handle the post-Panamax ships that will start coming through the large new locks of the Panama Canal after 2014.
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The Port of New York and New Jersey has the funding in place and will complete its ongoing harbor deepening project to 50 feet by 2014, but it won’t be able to fix the low air draft of the Bayonne Bridge before the Panama Canal’s new locks are completed. The port authority has set aside $1 billion to fix the bridge, but it may need more funding. Initial plans call for raising the center section of the existing bridge one lane at a time while traffic continues to move over the existing bridge.
Meanwhile, the port authority acquired two pieces of waterfront land for expansion project: the 98-acre Global Marine Terminal on the Port Jersey peninsula in Jersey City and Bayonne, where it will ask for bids to build a new container terminal next to the Global Marine terminal, and 130 acres at the Marine Ocean Terminal at Bayonne, where it may build a new auto terminal or another container terminal.
Two other East Coast ports will be ready for the opening of the Panama Canal’s new locks. Norfolk, part of the Port of Virginia, already has a depth of 50 feet and more than enough capacity with the new 50-year lease that the Virginia Port Authority has to operate the automated APM terminals there.
Baltimore also will be ready, as Ports America will finish a new fourth berth with 50 feet of depth at the existing Seagirt Marine Terminal by August 2012, two years ahead of schedule. Ports America is buying four new post-Panamax cranes that, with a reach of 22 containers across, can handle vessels with a capacity of up to 14,000 TEUs.
Farther south, almost all the ports in the South Atlantic are seeking funding to deepen their harbors. Georgia’s Savannah Harbor Expansion Plan, for which the Army Corps of Engineers has issued a draft environmental impact statement for public comment, faces environmental opposition from groups and state officials in neighboring South Carolina.
South Carolina’s Port of Charleston, which is close to the open ocean and already has a harbor depth of 47 feet at mean low water and can handle ships of 8,000 TEUs, has started the long process of getting permits and funding for deepening its harbor to 50 feet and beyond. The port also is building a container terminal in North Charleston on the former Navy base.
For Montreal, Canada’s second-largest port and 10th overall on the North American ranking with almost 1.2 million TEUs, growth is coming from Asia and Latin America. The port is part of a committee studying the potential for a new logistics and transportation center in the Montreal area.
Houston, the largest port on the Gulf, continues to expand its 4-year-old Bayport Terminal, where it added 1,000 feet of berth and three new cranes. It has joined with Tampa, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., to market the Gulf to Asian carriers as a growing market for all-water container services once the Panama Canal completes its new locks.
Contact Peter T. Leach at email@example.com.