Monday, August 24, 2020

The Numbers Are Up for Key US East Coast Port

New and Returning Customers Boost Figures
Shipping News Feature

US – The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore, renamed in 2006 after a leading local politician, has issued figures showing that increases in cargo volumes and new and returning business from national retailers has helped it in achieving a surge in month-over-month numbers in July, evidencing its continued rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The month’s figures show the Port’s state-owned, public marine terminals saw double-digit increases compared to the previous month for autos/light trucks, Roll On/Roll Off farm and construction equipment, containers and general cargo. The port management says it has seen increases in recent months both from many existing clients, and is also handling cargo for businesses that are new to the Port.

It cites the following examples, with Aldi increasing business at the Port, with projections for about 5,000 containers annually, Tractor Supply Company upping its import quota, Restoration Hardware says it will add 20 containers per week through the end of 2020, in addition to extra volume they have been bringing through the Port since the beginning of the year. MTC Logistics has seen refrigerated and frozen food volumes rise year on year, with storage imports on pace for a near 12% increase and exports on target for an 8% rise over 2019.

In addition to these regular clients Levin Furniture is a return business for the Port, with containers beginning next week, Big Lots is to begin shipping cargo through the Port of Baltimore for the first time, with initial containers expected to arrive in September, and Rite Aid is new business for the Port of Baltimore with projections for about 700 containers between July and the end of the year.

While down compared to last year, cargo counts have grown steadily in recent months. In July, key categories at the Port’s public marine terminals saw the following increases compared to June: Autos/Light Trucks (units) +55.4%, General Cargo (tonnes) +15.0%, Roll on/Roll Off (tonnes) +13.5%, Containers (TEU) +11.7%. Transportation Secretary Greg Slater observed:

“The Port has been a critical link in the supply chain throughout the Covid-19 emergency, and we know it will play a huge role in Maryland’s recovery. The ability to handle this surge is a testament to our dedicated team at the Port and the strength of our infrastructure.”

In another positive indicator, imported autos/light trucks unloaded from ships at the Port are heading straight to dealerships, instead of waiting days at the Port for pickup. Recently, Volkswagen began importing autos at Tradepoint Atlantic’s Sparrows Point facility. Ports America Chesapeake, which operates the Port’s Seagirt Marine Terminal, serves as stevedore for Volkswagen vehicle operations. Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) Executive Director William P. Doyle, said:

“We are seeing cargo volumes improving month over month in most sectors, including huge upticks in automobiles. We have also attracted new business, which has increased the volume of dry and refrigerated containers being carried on Neo-Panamax vessels calling on the Port of Baltimore. These are all great economic indicators, though we must recognise this still remains an unpredictable maritime trade environment.”

The positive July results follow a new record set last week at the Port when 5,536 container moves were conducted by longshore workers handling the Maersk Line’s Maersk Edinburgh vessel, which has a capacity of 13,092 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) containers. It was the largest number of moves for a single ship in the Port’s 314-year history.

The Port of Baltimore continues to receive such ships that can only visit ports with the infrastructure necessary to accommodate them. In addition to the Maersk Edinburgh, the Port has recently welcomed Evergreen’s Triton (14,424 TEU capacity) and Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s Maria Elena (9,200 TEU capacity).

The Port’s existing 50-foot berth and supersized cranes are results of the public-private partnership (P3) between MDOT MPA and Ports America Chesapeake. The 50-year agreement, signed in 2009 in the wake of a national recession, generated thousands of jobs and included $100 million for Maryland roads, bridges and tunnels. The agreement continues to result in increased tax revenue for the state and funds for the Transportation Trust Fund.

As part of the P3, work is progressing on a second 50-foot berth that will allow two massive ships to visit the Port at the same time. That berth, and four new supersized cranes, are expected to be operational by summer 2021. The project is a $116.4 million investment, with $103 million from Ports America, $7.8 million from the state and $6.6 million in federal funding. The growing container business also accentuates the need for the Howard Street Tunnel expansion project in Baltimore, which will accommodate the use of double-stacked rail cars to move cargo from the Port.

That project is benefitting from public-private investment from the state, CSX and others, and the Port generates about 15,300 direct jobs, with nearly 140,000 jobs overall linked to Port activities. Last year the Port handled a record 43.6 million tonnes of cargo, including more than 11 million tonnes of general cargo at the state-owned, public terminals. The Port of Baltimore ranks first among the nation’s ports for volume of autos and light trucks, Roll On/Roll Off heavy farm and construction machinery, and imported gypsum. It ranks 11th among major U.S. ports for cargo handled and ninth for total cargo value.

Meanwhile of course the pandemic has made operations like Baltimore concentrate even more than ever on health and safety, with the public marine terminals maintaining stringent CDC-recommended measures such as face masks, social distancing for individuals working at the terminals, and temperature screenings a continuing practice. On hearing the latest set of performance figures Governor Larry Hogan commented:

“The positive trends we’re seeing at the Port of Baltimore give us confidence that Maryland’s economy is recovering in a big way. We’re seeing new records for container moves and noteworthy cargo increases, all strong signs of consumer confidence.”

Photo: Evergreen Lines Triton docking at Baltimore.