Hard hit by a steep drop-off in coal shipments, which account for about half the port’s business during normal years, the Alabama State Port Authority announced today that it is laying off 86 dock workers, most of them employed at McDuffie Coal Terminal.
“We were geared up for a lot of growth in coal. We were on a steep increase and did almost 20 million tons last year,” said port director Jimmy Lyons. Now, the port’s bulk materials handling plant, an auxiliary to the port’s massive McDuffie Coal Terminal, is operating with a skeleton crew and the port expects to move 15 million tons of coal or less.
The port exports metallurgical coal. When steel manufacturing is down, those shipments fall off. Utility coal is also down, for two reasons, Lyons said: energy producers are favoring inexpensive gas and industrial demand is off because production is down.
However, Lyons said, forest products are ahead of where they were last year, containers and aluminum are up and project cargo is “way up.” Since the Mobile Container Terminal is now in business, he said, older sections of the port formerly used as container yards are now being used for project and breakbulk cargo such as cast iron pipe. The port is averaging one multi-purpose vessel a week bringing in cargo for the ThyssenKrupp steel mill being built at Calvert, Ala. or for a variety of auto manufacturing plants going up in the southeast.
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