Shippers urged to oppose Houston big ship limits

Shippers urged to oppose Houston big ship limits

Legislation that would limit the number of mega-vessels carrying containerized cargo on the Port of Houston Channel to one a week is facing a growing campaign of opposition. Photo credit:

Opponents of two laws that would enshrine the Port of Houston’s decision on April 12 to limit calls of vessels larger than 9,500 TEU to one weekly are urging shippers to fight the legislation and tell lawmakers that the bills will disrupt the supply chain and slow cargo.

Shippers, carriers, and brokers are circulating a form letter opposing the legislation in the Texas legislature and providing details of how to contact lawmakers. The opponents are seeking to “keep the legislation at bay and keep the free flow of commerce going,” according to Olga Lyakhovetskaya, director of marketing and business development at Green Worldwide Shipping, a Houston freight forwarder, in a Linkedin post on the campaign. Supporters of the campaign include Houston Customs Brokers & Freight Forwarders Association (HCBFFA) and Cosco Shipping, she said.

The two bills, filed March 8, were triggered by concern among non-container port users that the ever-growing container ships calling the port are disrupting the ability of other vessels to come and go in an efficient manner. Container volume through the port, the seventh-largest in North America, jumped 10.3 percent in 2018, and resins exports are expected to accelerate in the second half of the year.

Non-container-vessel operators and users say the increasing size of container ships, and the narrowness of the channel, means that other ships are sometimes restricted from using the channel because container ships are so large no other vessel can occupy the channel.

Opponents of the plan include the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), who announced their opposition on April 30, saying the legislation would reverse and then crush economic growth at the port.

One of the bills, if enacted, would allow only one vessel larger than 1,100 feet long — equating to approximately 9,500 TEU in capacity — to call at the port a week. The port pilots have said that to ensure safety, no vessel can share the narrow channel with a large vessel. The pilots have since relaxed that rule somewhat so that a second vessel can be in the channel in certain circumstances.

A second bill would effectively eliminate the port’s board of pilots in favor of a new, seven-member body that would operate independently from the Port of Houston Authority.

The form letter says that because big ships reduce transportation costs for importers and exports “restricting access to large vessels will put Texas exporters at a competitive disadvantage,” it will result in a loss of business for the company.

“The legislation sends a powerful message to our company and others doing business in Texas relying on containerized shipments that Texas does not want our business nor that of our ocean carrier service providers,” the letter states.

Contact Hugh R. Morley at and follow him on Twitter: @HughRMorley1.