To the extent the ports of Virginia and New York-New Jersey view each other as competitors — and they surely do — 2013 will show Virginia in the win column.
As a result of a litany of problems at New York-New Jersey but also gains at Virginia, the ports have seen widely divergent growth rates and a slight shift in the market share they fight over.
Through the first three quarters of the year, Norfolk saw its total container volumes, including empties, grow 6 percent, while New York-New Jersey saw a 3.7 percent decline, based on throughput data collected from the ports. That resulted in a slight market share shift in the Northeast in the first three quarters (a region including Virginia, Baltimore, NY-NJ, Boston, Montreal and Halifax), where Virginia’s share grew from 20.1 to 21.2 percent while New York-New Jersey’s share slipped from 55.1 to 53.1 percent.
“Without a doubt we’ve picked up volume that has been moving through other ports,” said Joe Harris, spokesman for the Port of Virginia.
The question is whether the trends seen this year are long term or temporary. New York-New Jersey is seeing 2013 as a forgettable year for any number of issues that it sees as one-time aberrations. Early in the year it was recovering from Superstorm Sandy while experiencing diversions due to threats of disruption tied to East Coast longshore negotiations that were completed in April and were largely focused on issues at New York-New Jersey. Then this summer the implementation of a Navis computer system at Maher Terminals went badly wrong, leading to huge truck lines, cargo delays and ship diversions, a situation that was compounded by a shortage of longshore labor. “A lot of the cargo that was supposed to go through New York-New Jersey this summer ended up in Virginia,” said a senior New Jersey terminal executive.
Virginia is gaining for various reasons. It picked up two additional services this year, the G6 CEC Suez service and the Zim ZCP Asia-Panama Canal service, though Harris said a lot of Virginia’s gain this year came from more cargo moving on existing services. Also, Virginia is seeing gains in intermodal as benefits of the Norfolk Southern-run Heartland Corridor are increasingly felt in the port’s volumes. Through October of this year 34 percent of the port’s volumes is moving via intermodal rail, up from 28 percent in 2010. On one route from Norfolk to Greensboro, N.C., the port is seeing several thousand moves this year of cargo that prior to the initiation of the service in 2011 would have moved by truck through Norfolk or via the ports Savannah, Charleston or Wilmington.
But some of Virginia’s gains may be temporary. Hapag-Lloyd is moving intermodal volumes through Norfolk in the absence of rail at its NY-NJ terminal, Global Terminal in Bayonne. Rail will be up and running at the terminal in 2016, NY-NJ port officials say, which could bring some of that volume back.
Officials at the Port of New York and New Jersey are also confident they will recapture volume once the Bayonne Bridge is raised in 2015, allowing ships of up to 13,000 TEUs to call the port, and due to its 50-foot channel into Newark Bay expected to be completed in 2014. But New York-New Jersey has other challenges, including a shortage of longshore labor, whose resolution is tied to litigation between port employers and dockworkers on one side and the Waterfront Commission on the other. “The Port of NY-NJ is drastically short of labor," and needs 300 to 600 additional dockworkers, according to Jeff Bader, head of the Bi-State Harbor Carriers Conference.