US seaports record surging volumes on back of robust economy

MANY US sea ports achieved record or near-record cargo volumes in the first half of this year, building on the high benchmark set in 2018 for import and export volumes, thanks to an expanding and resilient US economy

14 August 2019 - 19:00

MANY US sea ports achieved record or near-record cargo volumes in the first half of this year, building on the high benchmark set in 2018 for import and export volumes, thanks to an expanding and resilient US economy.

Port Authority of New York & New Jersey deputy director Beth Rooney was quoted as saying in a report by Washington's DC Velocity: 'Year-to-date container volume is up seven per cent over 2018, and that was a record year as well.'

The port is continuing to roll out expansion projects. Its latest achievement was the opening of the new ExpressRail Port Jersey facility that marked the completion of a major upgrade of the port's intermodal rail network.

Farther down the coast, South Carolina Ports Authority chief executive Jim Newsome said the robust US economy is fuelling regional manufacturing and driving exports of automobiles, chemicals, forest products and auto parts through the port of Charleston.

Like other ports, South Carolina is in the midst of extensive port infrastructure improvements and expansions. It is optimising the Wando Welch terminal, a 400-acre complex that moves 1.1 million TEU annually.

'At the end of our fiscal year in June, we were up 10 per cent,' Mr Newsome said. With port capacity expansion plans well under way and local developers proposing new warehousing capacity to handle e-commerce-driven distribution, Mr Newsome believes opportunities in South Carolina and neighbouring southern states abound.

The Port of Oakland on the west coast saw total import/export container volume in the first six months of 2019 rise 3.6 per cent from last year's record.

Among the improvements at Oakland have been deepening harbour channels to 50 feet, introducing night gates and appointments to improve capacity and throughput, and heightening existing cranes and purchasing new cranes that can accommodate 18,000-TEU ships.

The Port of Long Beach is ranked as the second-busiest seaport in the country. Served by 175 shipping lines, the port processed a record 8,091,023 TEU in 2018. This June's volume of 677,167 TEU was the second-highest June total in the port's history.

While total container throughput in the first half of 2019 was 6.7 per cent off last year's record pace, executive director Mario Cordero likes his port's prospects.

'The only question for the future is, is it all going to be about China or will it include Vietnam, Cambodia, and India?' he said.

One project is expanding and improving on-dock rail capability. The port commission has given the nod to the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility, a rail infrastructure project that will 'enhance [the way] we stage longer trains and accelerate the movement and number of trains in and out of the port,' Mr Cordero explained.

Business is brisk over on the Gulf coast as well. Cargo volumes at the port of Houston rose 9.5 per cent year on year to 2.21 million TEU in 2018.

Its number-one priority is widening and deepening the 52-mile-long Houston ship channel. The port is nearing completion of a study with the Army Corps of Engineers of a widening project, for which it hopes to receive congressional approval in 2020.

Yet for US ports, continued growth is not without challenges. According to the American Association of Port Authorities (PA), issues today and in the foreseeable future include finding innovations to develop and pay for landside and waterside infrastructure improvements.

The Trump administration's seemingly ever-evolving China tariff policies, and on-again, off-again trade negotiations sparked a warning by the port of Oakland's outgoing executive director Chris Lytle.

He called on the Trump administration to avoid tariffs on cargo-handling equipment produced in China. The Oakland port's largest maritime terminal is awaiting delivery in 2020 of three new ship-to-shore cranes from Shanghai-based ZPMC.

'Tariffs could severely impede and/or prevent our marine terminal partners from making critical infrastructure investments needed to [compete in] the changing international trade landscape,' said Mr Lytle.


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