West Coast ports are “big ship ready” today with deep harbors and large marine terminals, and will be in an even better position by the time East Coast ports begin handling mega-ships via the enlarged Panama Canal in 2015, port executives told footwear importers meeting in Southern California.
The Port of Long Beach recently welcomed the largest container ship to call in North America -- Mediterranean Shipping Company’s Beatrice -- with a capacity of 13,798 20-foot container units, said Ken Uriu, the port’s marketing manager.
“Who is big ship ready? Los Angeles and Long Beach are today and will be more so tomorrow,” Uriu told the annual meeting of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America.
Uriu noted that the major West Coast gateways of Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach all have the 50-foot harbors, or deeper, needed to accommodate vessels of 8,000-TEU to more than 13,000-TEU capacity that are in service today in the eastbound Pacific.
Except for the Virginia ports and Baltimore, which have 50-foot channel depths, other East Coast gateways must spend hundreds of millions of dollars to deepen their harbors in anticipation of the Panama Canal enlargement project that is scheduled for completion in 2015, Uriu said.
While the East Coast ports are doing the necessary environmental studies or are seeking federal assistance for harbor deepening projects, West Coast ports are addressing the landside issues needed to accommodate mega-ships, he said.
Construction has begun in Long Beach on the $1.5 billion Middle Harbor terminal that will have an annual capacity of 3 million TEUs at full build-out. Long Beach also intends to build a new terminal on a greenfield site at Pier S. The EIR for that project should come out in December, Uriu said.
Many of the terminals in Southern California also plan to bring in full automation or partial automation in order to handle the big ships more efficiently, said Christopher Chase, marketing manager at the Port of Los Angeles.
Several terminal operators, including TraPac and Eagle Marine in Los Angeles and Middle Harbor in Long Beach have announced plans to introduce automated cargo-handling equipment that operates more efficiently and is less polluting than traditional diesel-powered equipment.
Chase said each of the 14 marine terminal operators in the port complex is looking at automation in its own way, and given the large costs involved in automating and electrifying a facility, projects will be developed gradually over the next 10 years.
In addition to providing deep harbors and modern marine terminals, the rail-dependent West Coast ports are investing in expanded and improved on-dock and near-dock intermodal facilities and roadway infrastructure in the harbor area, said Sue Coffey, manager of commercial strategy at the Port of Tacoma.
“The best way for West Coast ports to compete is to invest in infrastructure,” she said.