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Companies involved in the import of global products into the U.S. and considering the utilization of a foreign trade zone (FTZ) in their business may want to consult with a third-party logistics firm to get an in-depth look at what access to an FTZ may mean for them—and what a 3PL could offer in terms of benefits and efficiencies while operating within an FTZ.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), FTXs are secure areas under the agency’s supervision that are generally considered outside CBP territory upon activation. Located in or near CBP ports of entry, they are the U.S. version of what are known internationally as free-trade zones.

Imported products can be brought into the country through an FTZ and no duty is paid on these products until they are moved to their U.S. destination. Products can sit or be warehoused in FTZs for lengthy periods and if it is determined these products are no longer required, they can be returned without duties being paid.

“Most importantly, the FTZ program is a U.S. government program-driven around compliance and is unique in that it covers the full supply chain,” says Trudy Huguet, senior director of FTZ Product at GEODIS in Americas, in an interview.

An international firm with a strong North American presence and operations, GEODIS is a logistics company that offers services in several lines of business: supply chain optimization, freight forwarding, contract logistics, distribution and express, and road transportation.

Huguet offered that the expertise of the 3PL that offers foreign trade services has many benefits but, most importantly, they usually can serve on compliance and efficiencies. For instance, she noted a 3PL may have better access “to operational systems and data flow that is needed for multiple systems to run an FTZ” or systems integrated with a foreign-trade zone system. She said a 3PL may also be able to serve certain shared costs with the availability of facilities such as warehousing, as an example.

“3PLs are driven by customers’ needs, like customization and square footage, along with services, staff and team members to run that FTZ for them,” she said.

Addressing a company’s needs is extremely important, in or prior to a peak holiday season, said Huguet.

She noted that many years ago companies used to administrate their own zones but that meant the expertise had to be in-house, necessitating the need to cross-train employees. However, by contracting with a 3PL, “those risks with these programs go away,” Huguet said.

GEODIS has molded programs to fit customers’ needs “so we will work with customers to determine how they can get the biggest bang for their buck,” and where they can find the greatest savings within the FTZ, she said.

Because the U.S.a U.S. FTZ is a sister program to the global free-trade zone, “We are unique in regulations and how we operate and very strong in compliance and most industries and manufacturers, producers and distributors,” Huguet said. “If they are importing into the U.S., they have the opportunity to benefit from this program.”

Getting involved in an FTZ is “kind of a three-stage process” that, Huguet says, involves consultation with the FTZ board where designation is obtained. Activation with local customs and security is followed by building the operational side of the FTZ to run parallel with in-house systems.

Paul Killea, senior vice president of Freight Services Compliance & Security in Americas for GEODIS, oversees import and export compliance for the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Colombia, in addition to running an FTZ product. He stressed that “compliance is very big part of the FTZ.”

“Compliance is the process of ensuring that all of our services and our customers’ services are performed in a compliant manner and adhere to all (government) regulations” in and out of the U.S., Killea says. “So, we are responsible to ensure that we have the right processes in place, the right tools for auditing and reporting and in doing so, create visibility to outside parties, specifically the government and our customers, to show them we are compliant.”

GEODIS provides an array of services such as air freight, ocean freight, warehousing and trucking, and the 3PL has a top goal to be compliant itself and to make sure its customers are, too. “First and foremost, GEODIS has to be compliant but obviously we need to make sure our customers are compliant as well. It is a global principle we hold in high regard at GEODIS,” he says.

Strong compliance would definitely be beneficial to a company looking at the benefits of a 3PL with access to FTZ, he noted.

On the security side, GEODIS has a team that manages various aspects of security. The company is a member of Independent Air Carriers and freight forwarder that adheres to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration regulations. The company not only transports air freight, “we are also a certified screening facility in six locations,” Killea notes. “So, my team manages all of that air freight security which is also beneficial to clients.”

Huguet points out that more companies are becoming interested in FTZs “so what we have seen are more companies trying to improve their supply chain dealing with all the various supply chain challenges and bottlenecking with merchandise. Everyone is looking for a better solution and FTZs will help with that.” 

In addition, they can assist with some of the governmental trade issues that have been put into place, such as dealing with China.

Challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and port congestion have created issues for companies that 3PLs with access to FTZs can assist with, such as creating additional warehousing within the FTZ to store products longer.

“Because of port congestion and because of COVID, merchandise is sometimes being delayed and not moving as quickly as it should,” Huguet concedes. “The FTZ program has certainly helped.”

port houston


The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has more than struck a nerve with its recent report that humans are to blame for the Earth heading for environmental disaster.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the report was “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening.” 

He further stated that, “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.” 

“Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai.

The report also shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate. The evidence is clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of climate change, even as other greenhouse gases and air pollutants also affect the climate.

“Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid and sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and reaching net zero CO2 emissions,” said Zhia, in his comments when the report was released. “Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits for health and the climate.”

Aspects of the marine industry have been targeted in the past as culprits in the spread of CO2 emissions and other pollutants. In the past four or five years, ports throughout North America have been implementing programs to reduce emissions, through the use of electric terminal equipment, shore power and LNG facilities. Every bit helps. 

The Port of Houston, however, has elevated its game in the protection of the environment. Striving to do its part on climate change, Port Houston has been doing its share and more for nearly 20 years, long before climate change became the hot topic it is today.

On its website, Port Houston is described as a 25-mile-long complex of nearly 200 private and public industrial terminals along the 52-mile-long Houston Ship Channel. The eight public terminals are owned, operated, managed or leased by the Port of Houston Authority and include general cargo terminals and container terminals.

Each year, more than 247 million tons of cargo move through the greater Port of Houston, carried by more than 8,200 vessels and 215,000 barges. In 2019, the port achieved the No. 1 ranking in total waterborne tonnage in the U.S. and still ranks first in the U.S. in foreign waterborne tonnage. Port Houston is also home to a multi-billion petrochemical complex, the largest in the nation and second-largest in the world.

In 2002, the Port of Houston Authority became the first such entity in the U.S. to achieve an ISO 14001 certification for its environmental management system, which was an indication of the seriousness of its environmental efforts. 

So, what was the determination behind the environmental drive in the early 2000s?

“I think the port always had a view that if we don’t have a healthy environment, it is hard to have a healthy economy,” says Rich Byrnes, Port Houston’s chief port infrastructure officer, “and the mission of ports is to facilitate trade and facilitate commerce.”

Houston port officials’ views on a healthy environment and economy roll into their top concern over the Texas region’s quality of life, according to Byrnes, who also cautioned there is a public perception that the port authority has jurisdiction over more facilities than it actually does.

“We operate the public docks, which are primarily container terminals and general cargo terminals,” Byrnes clarified. The liquid bulk activities and 200 other docks and wharves are privately owned and operated by a few dozen major companies that also own the refineries and petrochemical complex.

“That puts us in an interesting situation because the public looks to the port, looks to us as representative of the Greater Port of Houston where 70% of the ships that come in are going to those private bulk facilities,” Byrnes says. “So, we realize we can’t do things alone.”

The chief infrastructure officer was quick to note that Port Houston is not going to solve climate change and the major challenges that have been highlighted in the UN report as those are global issues, but his team we will do what they can locally.

“We have neighbors and we have communities who are concerned about every dock and wharf that gets built and about noise, the light, the emissions that happen up and down the ship channel and we hear it all,” he says. “Whether or not we are responsible for it or not, we hear it because we have public port commission meetings and that’s a forum for the public to come in and say these are the things that are going right and wrong in the area. 

“Many times, it is not our jurisdiction, it may be the EPA or the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, but we hear it all. Our stance on the environment, including being the first port ISO Certified back in 2002, was all motivated because we are trying to be responsive to the port stakeholders who live and breathe around the port. I don’t know if the awareness of climate change back in the early 2000s was what it is today, so I won’t say those changes were motivated by climate change. They were motivated by a port responding to local stakeholders.”

It is part of the port’s mandate to work in partnership with the private companies along the ship channel as well as various agencies to develop programs to deal with climate change and unwanted pollutants, according to Byrnes.

Early this year, the port authority published an environmental leadership strategy with stated goals on what it wants to achieve in the near term and long term when it comes to clean air, water quality, storm water runoff and other ecological concerns.

“As part of that we are doing a whole bunch of things and the port has reduced its carbon footprint by 55% over the last four years,” Byrnes stated. “One of the big needle movers there was an electricity contract.” 

That’s a reference to the port having signed an electricity contract with Shell, which built a solar field in West Texas with the public grant.

“So, one thing we did,” Byrnes says, “we introduced electric vehicles to our fleet and those types of things.” 

Another partnership with the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, which was aimed at emissions reductions, resulted in a number of recommendations.

“One of the things that was implementable in the immediate term was to purchase an electric yard mule to move containers around the yards,” Byrnes recalled. “That technology we had tried about 10 years ago, but the technology at the time didn’t stand up to the workload pressures but we tried it again. It has been in our fleet for about six months now and we are seeing good performance, so we will probably continue to move in that direction.

Another port goal resulted in the launch of a “sustainability action team”—with an emphasis on “action,” according to Byrnes, who stressed that the authority wants the public to realize there are several initiatives in the works. One initiative involved invitations to about 140 different stakeholders for five, two-hour environmental workshops.

“We had about 80 participate from all walks of life—citizens, community and environmental advocacy groups but also the cargo shippers, beneficial cargo owners, the cargo carriers and industry partners,” said Byrnes. 

Through these workshops, there was a review of more than 100 sustainable projects at 70 ports around the world, which allowed Houston to match up its own projects with other global sustainability concepts.

“We took a sampling of that and said these are the types of things that can fit here in Houston,” Byrnes said. 

The authority spokesman said that during the workshops, “we asked a couple of simple questions. The first was what is important to the stakeholders and what can we do about it. The prime areas were clean energy, emissions reduction, community strengthening, circular economy and transparency. What we came up with was a list of 27 opportunities to either lead, partner or support different sustainability initiatives, and that lead, partner and support model was important because there are some things we can do inside of our own gates.”

Byrnes said the authority can introduce electric vehicles to its own facilities and reduce its own carbon footprint, but it can’t mandate billions of dollars to pipelines and others systems in the shipping channel because they belong to private industry.

“The things we can’t lead, we need to partner. So, we are having conversations with big oil companies and entrepreneurial startups around initiatives that would translate into the initial transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, for example, helping ships transition to LNG or other alternative fuels.” 

The goal would be for the partners to become carbon neutral through, for instance, proper sourcing and blending of the materials going into the feedstock.

As for the supporting concept, “There are of major initiatives going on right now,” Byrnes said. 

For instance, in June the Blue Sky Maritime Coalition, which Port Houston co-founded, was launched. It is a collection of about three dozen companies with a focus on de-carbonizing shipping. Byrnes said the port authority can support this initiative “by making sure our initiatives are aligned with those initiatives. We are also joining the international agencies’ hydrogen ports coalition, which is similarly about exchanging ideas and practices to transition to clean energy.

“The other thing we are doing is working with the Center for Houston’s Future around the hydrogen economy and its transition,” Byrnes continued. 

That work will deal with questions such as how to accelerate Houston as a hub, all the installed infrastructure that comes with technology as well as the jobs and skills that will be absolutely suited to introducing new forms of energy and energy management.

“If there is going to be a place to contribute to the implementation of hydrogen and ammonia, it will be a place like Houston,” Byrnes added.

In discussions on environmental issues and suggestions to reduce carbon emissions, the overall reaction from private entities has been positive, according to Byrnes.

“I think they enthusiastically joined in our sustainability workshops, and as we did some homework we didn’t have to look far to find their own sustainability reports and strategies,” he said, noting almost every company along the ship channel has such goals, most of which are published. “So, we took a look at what they are doing and aligned to that. Some of these are ocean carriers, some who either own or charter ships; they are moving to cleaner fuels, driven a bit by IMO 2020, low Sulphur fuel requirements, also engine manufacturers or ship owners moving to alternative fuels, either LNG-powered ships and even ammonia powered ships.”

Byrnes added that companies whose business is clearly in the oil and gas sector “are not going away any time soon, but they are all focused on what the future holds and preparing themselves strategically, so they have sustainability initiatives.”

He went on to make this point about oil and gas companies: “When we talk about sustainability, climate change and impacts, there seems to be a lot of vilification of the fossil fuel industry. There is an angle here in Houston that some of the companies promote and that is it is in the national interest to export energy. And they like to make money doing it, but when we export natural gas to places like India and China, that is replacing wood, coal and dung in people’s homes and things like that. So, there is actually a net benefit to positioning fuel. While these companies all have sustainability goals, their business is doing some good things as well.”

While ports around North America and globally have over the past five years moved to more environmentally sustainable practices, it would appear Port Houston, with its many initiatives, investments and dialogue with numerous stakeholders, has carved itself a leadership role in the marine ports’ climate change battle.

“We like to say we are an environmental leader and what that means is being vigilant and always looking for what else we can do,” says Byrnes. “And that’s what we are focused on this year, 2021.”

As for the next five to 10 years for Port Houston with respect to the environment “we will keep doing what we are doing, but I think we are maybe at a tipping point. There have been a lot of ideas that have been talked about for the past several years, that are ideas whose time has come,” he says. 

One example is the transition to cleaner fuels for ships, with an ever-growing number of vessels transitioning to LNG and other alternatives.

 “As a port, we are going to try to facilitate the acceleration of this energy adaption so we can get to a lower emission transportation industry in this area,” said Byrnes, adding there is a lot of “pioneering work ongoing.”



For the marine industry, “onward and upward” may be a fitting idiom. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic a constant, port congestion a problem, a scarcity of ship capacity and a shortage of terminal workers and truck drivers, just to mention a few issues, cargo keeps moving and ports and terminals keep doing their best to meet the daily challenges and plan for the future.

Hans Bean, chief commercial officer for North Carolina Ports, touched on the impact of supply chain issues in the breakbulk sector.

“Much has been written about the major supply chain disruption caused by the container carriers,” he notes. “This has driven shippers, where possible, to shift more of their supply chain to breakbulk. North Carolina Ports has seen import and export shippers increase the share of their ocean freight to breakbulk over the last six months.”

Bean says this global switch to more breakbulk “has driven up breakbulk ocean rates as well as warehouse utilization. The challenges on the U.S. East Coast lie primarily with warehouse capacity.”

He explained that, “In recent months, many U.S. East Coast ports have reached warehouse capacity limits and either had to turn vessels away or force extremely long wait times.” 

Though warehouse capacity is approaching 100% utilization, North Carolina Ports “has not overstepped its capacity limits due to its flexibility with its two-port solution,” Bean says in references to the ports of Wilmington and Morehead City. “Moreover, North Carolina Ports has land to grow and is looking to invest alone and with partners so to add capacity.”

North Carolina Ports’ two deep-water terminals at Wilmington and Morehead City have a long tradition of handling bulk and breakbulk cargoes. Over the past six years, Bean’s port authority has spent more than $200 million upgrading its container and non-container facilities at both locations.

“In the past two years, new dimension lumber breakbulk services have taken advantage of these improvements in both ports with Ultrabulk, G2 Ocean, Saga Welco and Spliethoff all activating new breakbulk services,” Bean said.

“At the Port of Wilmington, the diverse and multi-purpose terminal allows shippers that utilize both container and breakbulk modes of transportation to pivot between containers and breakbulk,” said Bean. “The ability to provide cross-over solutions has become a major advantage as pulp and paper products, grain, steel and even cold chain shippers seek additional capacity and re-evaluate their supply chains.” 

He also noted that on one terminal, Scoular, a major exporter of grain, feed and food ingredients, is completing a new grain transload facility that is scheduled to be operational by mid-November.

The Port of Morehead City, dedicated to bulk and breakbulk, recently received a new Liebherr LPS 420 crane, including new buckets/hopper equipment. 

Southern exposure

After a drop in cargo volume in fiscal year 2020/21, things are looking up at the Port of Beaumont, with an eye on growing volumes and moving forward on infrastructure projects at the Texas facility.

“2021 has been the year of focusing on infrastructure improvements to increase capacity at the Port of Beaumont,” said Sade Chick, the port’s director of Corporate Affairs. “As of Q3 of 2021, industrial projects have started to pick back up, which has had a positive impact on breakbulk volumes.”

Sade said the port recently issued more than $400 million in revenue bonds to Jefferson Energy Companies, the port’s private partner and operator of the Orange County Liquid Bulk Terminal, which will go toward infrastructure improvements, including construction of a third dock at the facility. An uptick in liquid bulk cargo volumes is anticipated in 2022. 

As well, the port commissioners approved a $217 million capital improvement program, comprised of 20 projects for 2021-2022. 

“The port is especially excited about this program because three of our largest projects will be out to bid by early 2022,” Chick said in reference to the Main Street Terminal 1 dock reconstruction project ($85.2 million), Grain Dock rehabilitation project ($25 million) and construction of a new rail interchange track ($12.3 million).

Also, of the 20 projects, 10 will directly impact breakbulk handling. The hard-surfacing of lots 5 and 13, the Lot 14 paving project, South End Infrastructure improvements and the Harbor Island Drive resurfacing project will result in an additional 30 acres of hard-surfaced laydown area for breakbulk cargoes.

Harbor Island Drive is the main road used to move cargo in and out of the port. The road will be resurfaced to expedite the process of moving large project components, like wind blades. 

Chick said that, “Upon completion of Main Street Terminal 1, the port will have an additional 1,150-foot-long dock used for general cargo handling. This will provide the port with an additional berth that will primarily be used for military equipment, wind turbine components and forest products.”

With a glimpse to the future, Chick said, “We anticipate growth in project cargo, specifically wind turbine components and refinery components. The driver for growth in wind energy is the Biden administration’s approved plans for the construction of the first, large-scale U.S. offshore wind farm.” 

The petrochemical industry is cyclical and historically, a downturn is followed by fairly rapid recovery, which comes in the form of projects starting back up, increasing the amount of project cargo moving through the Port of Beaumont. 

Milwaukee brewing

Although breakbulk has been down about 8% so far this year at Port Milwaukee located on Lake Michigan, Port Director Adam Tindall-Schlicht is optimistic some major projects will increase volumes.

Port Milwaukee handles a wide variety of breakbulk and non-containerized cargo, including steel (coils, plate, and long products), wind turbine components (towers, nacelles, blades, generators), brewery tanks, mining equipment, yachts, forest products, transformers, farm and construction machinery, manufacturing equipment, bagged materials and other project cargoes.

But one project, in particular, that holds great promise for the port is the construction of new headquarters and manufacturing plant by Komatsu Mining Corp, which produces heavy equipment. The project, in the Milwaukee Harbor District, has a price tag of $285 million. 

“The Komatsu project is directly related to opportunities for breakbulk,” said Tindall-Schlicht. “Komatsu has historically leveraged the Milwaukee port when it is exporting its mining equipment and large breakbulk pieces. Now that their new headquarters and manufacturing facilities are directly adjacent to us in the Harbor District, we really anticipate increased activity with Komatsu.”

Port Milwaukee has also been getting activity from the Ascent project under construction downtown. The 25-story apartment tower is the world’s largest timber structure “and we are within their supply chain so those pieces (timber) are being imported into North America from Austria, and the port is providing just-in-time delivery services,” Tindall-Schlicht said.

The port has put an emphasis on capital improvement this year and is in the process of developing the DeLong Terminal, which is an $85-million agriculture export terminal. It is expected to be operational in April 2023.

As has been the situation globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Milwaukee’s trade patterns.

Although 2020 was the port’s best year in seven years with an overall commercial volume increase of 5%, Tindall-Schlicht pointed out that, “The supply chain and worldwide logistics issues that we have seen this year as a result of COVID are starting to impact the port. Our breakbulk trade is down about 8% so far this season.” 

It just goes to show that challenging issues in the marine industry are not confined to containerized cargo.

“We are seeing changes and impacts in dry bulk and breakbulk markets and really in all commodity areas that Port Milwaukee serves,” Tindall-Schlicht said.

While some of the decline can relate to supply chain and logistics issues, he said another “piece of this is many of the Trump era tariffs are still very much in play and causing some hardship here after years of being out there. We are still looking for some relaxation on some of those Trump era tariffs, and we hope the global trade community can come together and figure out a new paradigm as we go forward.”

Merrily, merrily Maryland

At the Port of Baltimore, “Big Red” is not just the name of a soda pop or chewing gum. It’s also the handle for a 167-foot long Manitowoc M250T crane at the port’s Dundalk Marine Terminal that can lift a staggering 200 metric tons. You’ll also find a Manitowoc GROVE GMK 7550 crane named ‘Yellow’ that can hoist 182 metric tons, as well as a heavy lift floating crane that can directly load heavy cargo from vessels to a barge, truck or railcar bed.

The terminal has direct rail access via CSX and is adjacent to the I-95 corridor and I-695 beltway. Indeed, the port boasts of having “the most cost-effective and efficient routing for the Mid-Atlantic region, the Midwest and beyond,” which explains why Baltimore ranks first among the nation’s ports for volume of autos and light trucks, ro-ro heavy farm and construction machinery and imported gypsum.

In the movement of vehicles, Baltimore has handled more autos and light trucks than any other U.S. port for 10 consecutive years, and the rebound from pandemic lows indicates continued strength in that category. In April, 34,672 autos and light trucks came across the port’s public docks, a tremendous 97% increase compared to the category’s pandemic low point in May 2020. In addition to new vehicles, the port also handles previously owned vehicles. In April, that category was also up 27% compared to the same month last year.

Public terminals at the port handled 85,405 tons of heavy machinery, up 73% compared to the category’s low point in June 2020 and a 30% increase compared to April of last year. Overall general cargo, with 937,439 tons, was up 28% compared to the category’s June 2020 low and up 7% year-over-year. 

K-Line, Nordana Line, NYK Bulkship, Höegh Autoliners, Grimaldi Lines, Westfal Larsen, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Atlantic Container Lines, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, Canada States Africa Line, and Atlantic Ro/Ro Carriers Bahri (the national shipping company of Saudi Arabia) are among the roll-on/roll-off breakbulk carriers that call on the port.

“Our cargo figures are bouncing back strong,” William Doyle, Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration’s (MDOT MPA) executive director, says in a release. “Farming and construction are picking up once again, worldwide, and American-made equipment is being exported to global markets through the Port of Baltimore. We are also moving forward with rail and terminal infrastructure projects that will help generate thousands of jobs and grow our business for many years to come.”

Georgia peachy

Located about 18 miles inland on the Savannah River, the Port of Savannah has 16 private terminals that handle a variety of products, ranging from woodchips and liquid natural gas to paper goods and petroleum.

But the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) also owns and operates Savannah’s Garden City Terminal and Ocean Terminal, with the latter primarily being a breakbulk facility with about 5,800 feet of contiguous dock space. Vehicles, heavy duty non-road equipment and other types of breakbulk cargo pass through Ocean Terminal.

In 2015, GPA implemented a new tracking system to more quickly process breakbulk cargo and provide real-time freight tracking for shippers moving cargo through the Port of Savannah. Then GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz, who has since retired and been succeeded by Griff Lynch, said at the time, “The new system means faster service and better communication with our breakbulk customers.”

The Port of Brunswick is also a ro-ro, bulk and breakbulk facility that handled more than 685,000 units of vehicles and heavy machinery is fiscal year 2021 and contributed to the GPA seeing an 18% rise in total ro-ro volume compared to the previous year.

Port officials said the facilities saw a fast recovery from the global economic downturn of 2020.

To keep up with this unprecedented growth, GPA has accelerated its hiring efforts, bringing on nearly 150 new employees since January 2021. Many of these employees are being trained in jockey trucks, yard cranes and other equipment to handle growth at GPA’s facilities.



A sharp increase in container cargo in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of this year has proven to be a pleasant surprise for several U.S. ports. But even prior to the impacts of COVID-19 on container cargo, many ports were already dealing with substantial growth and operational success. “Deeper, wider, bigger” has been the theme as ports and terminals spent and continue to spend billions of dollars to capture greater market share.

So, is “deeper, wider, bigger” the secret to growing the container business?

“There really is no secret,” says Joe Harris, spokesman for the Port of Virginia, who adds that his home facility “offers a modern, technologically advanced port run by a team of experienced professionals. We focus on customer service, efficiency and providing a predictable experience to our customers–the ocean carriers–and the cargo owners choosing to move their goods over our terminals. Those things, combined with a long-term plan of strategic infrastructure investments that is shared with the port’s users, are vital to our future.” 

From 2014 through 2024, the Port of Virginia will have invested nearly $1.5 billion in modernization. This includes expanding annual TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) throughput capacity by 1 million units and deepening and widening commercial channels to make Virginia the deepest port on the U.S. East Coast. 

“The strategy is to leverage these investments to grow volume, expand market share, build our competitiveness and continue to be a catalyst for economic investment and job creation in Virginia for decades to come,” Harris said. 

Supporting the strategy is a team of professionals across the world, including the U.S., representing the port. These professionals are continually engaged in driving business to Virginia, according to Harris. “They are supported by a business analytics team that is helping to identify emerging markets, new industries, expansion among beneficial cargo owners and ocean carriers,” he adds. 

Port Tampa Bay has also witnessed a strong uptick in container cargo.

“Our container business increased by 33 percent last fiscal year and is up another 43 percent in the most recent quarter,” says Wade Elliott, the port’s vice president of Business Development. “The primary driver is the continued rapid growth of the Florida market, which was the second-fastest-growing state by population last year.”

The Tampa Bay/Orlando I-4 Corridor region, home to Florida’s largest concentration of distribution centers with close to 400-million square feet of space, “was already one of the hottest industrial real estate markets in the U.S. pre-COVID-19,” Elliott notes.

“New container service connections from Asia, and more recently Mexico, have helped facilitate this increased business,” he says, “and the port’s close proximity to these distribution centers allows importers and exporters to make multiple round-trip deliveries per day, resulting in significant savings in trucking and supply chain costs.”

To keep pace with the growth, there is a need to develop more infrastructure.

“Port Tampa Bay recently completed 25 acres of additional paved storage, bringing the total container terminal footprint to 67 acres with plans to add another 30 acres,” Elliott said. “Work has also begun on a third berth which will bring the total to over 4,500 linear feet, allowing three large ships to be worked at the same time. Construction is also about to start on a new container gate complex and the bid process has begun to acquire two, additional gantry cranes,” Elliott concluded.

The Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) saw container volumes rebound up by 5 percent year-to-date in FY21 (Fiscal Year) which began in October. Nearly 353,400 TEUs moved through JAXPORT during the first quarter of FY21, making it one of the port’s busiest first quarters on record for container volumes.

“Location and efficiency are both central to JAXPORT’s success throughout our various trade lanes and business lines,” says Robert Peek, JAXPORT’s general manager of Business Development. “JAXPORT is located in the heart of the southeast U.S. and offers fast access to 70 million consumers within a day’s drive.”

Historically, Puerto Rico has been JAXPORT’s largest trading partner, accounting for about half of all JAXPORT’s containerized volumes, but Jacksonville has been actively pursuing new business.

“Today, container shipping lines service additional Caribbean islands through JAXPORT, as well as Central and South America,” Peek added. “JAXPORT also offers robust container vessel service with China and countries throughout Asia.” 

With the benefits of congestion-free terminals and infrastructure enhancements, anchored by a harbor deepening project, JAXPORT will “continue to work to grow our offerings in the trans-Atlantic and African trade lanes as well,” Peek said.

With Jacksonville also in the “deeper, wider, bigger” mode, its infrastructure projects will support its growth plans.

“The federal project to deepen the Jacksonville shipping channel to 47 feet from its current depth of 40 feet will be completed through our Blount Island Marine Terminal in 2022,” Peek said. “Harbor deepening is JAXPORT’s single biggest growth initiative and positions us as a port of choice for the increasingly larger container ships calling the U.S. East Coast.”

More than $200 million in terminal enhancements are also underway at the SSA Jacksonville Container Terminal at Blount Island. “These enhancements include phased yard improvements to allow the facility to accommodate more containers, berth enhancements to enable the terminal to simultaneously accommodate two post-Panamax vessels and the addition of three additional state-of-the-art, eco-friendly container cranes, bringing the facility’s total to six,” Peek added.

California’s Port of Long Beach is a leading gateway on America’s most important trade route, the trans-Pacific, and it offers the fastest and shortest route between Asia and the United States.

“We offer more connections to interstate highways and national rail lines, along with access to 2 billion square feet of warehouse space in the region,” says port Executive Director Mario Cordero.

In 2020, Long Beach handled more than 8.1 million TEUs, the best year in its history “and to start off 2021, we’ve had our best January and February on record,” Cordero adds.

The port sees growth opportunities in markets such as Southeast Asia as well as Latin America, and eventually Long Beach would also like to see a resurgence in U.S. exports, Cordero says.

Capital improvement projects are crucial to maintaining successful and growing operations. Cordero says the port is completing “the world’s most advanced container terminal at Middle Harbor,” known as Long Beach Container Terminal.

Slated for completion later this year, this automated terminal will have 14 ship-to-shore, dual-lift cranes. Six of the cranes will be big enough to handle a 22,000 TEU ship. There will be 70 stacking cranes and 72 automated guided vehicles (AGV) at full build-out, adding an annual capacity of 3.3 million TEUs.

“In 2021, planned capital expenditures of $379 million account for 58 percent of our spending,” Cordero says. “Over the next 10 years, the port will invest $1.7 billion in infrastructure and $1 billion of that is for the development of the port’s on-dock rail capacity.”

Not surprisingly, the growth of the container business has spurred innovation in other aspects of the industry. 

California-based Blume Global, for example, has co-developed with Fenix Marine Services (FMS), a marine terminal operator at the Port of Los Angeles, a technology platform to add efficiencies to container movement. 

“This service doesn’t simply help the terminal operate more efficiently, the entire port ecosystem (ocean carrier, rail carriers, motor carriers, labor interests, logistics service providers, beneficial cargo owners) gains an advantage,” says Lincoln Pei, account manager, Blume Global. “When containers flow quickly through port complexes and marine terminals, vessel berth and rail car capacity are optimized, gate transactions are timelier, and dray carrier wait times are reduced, among other improvements,” he says.



The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order in October 2020 that remains in effect until Nov. 1, 2021. The framework was established to allow cruise lines to resume activity after being shut down for a year by the global pandemic. The order applies to passenger operations on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction. 

Although the CDC says it would prefer if people didn’t cruise at all, this action has been more aggressive than in Canada, which has announced its cruise season has been canceled for the second straight year in 2021. The ban extends until Feb. 22, 2022.

“Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach, and our current focus is on the protection of crew and working with cruise lines to implement the initial phase requirements of testing all crew and developing onboard laboratory capacity,” said Jason McDonald, CDC media spokesman, in an email.

“Future orders and technical instructions will address additional activities to help cruise lines prepare for and return to passenger operations in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers and crew members, including simulated voyages, certification for conditional sailing and restricted voyages,” he added.

The new technical instructions will give cruise ports and terminals direction in providing further protocols and programs to help protect passengers, crews and port employees when cruising resumes.

However, ports and terminals have not been sitting idly by since the pandemic struck North America more than a year ago. Ports in the U.S. have been following the CDC’s lead and developing protocols and programs to reduce the COVID-19 risk.

The Florida Ports Council, which provides leadership for the state’s 14 deep-water seaports, has been working diligently with its membership on pandemic response. 

“While maintaining a state of readiness for cruising to resume, our ports are diligently protecting workers through enhanced sanitation procedures, personal protective equipment and mitigation response, including capital infrastructure retrofitting equipment, improved HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) filters and hands-free building access,” said Doug Wheeler, the council’s president & CEO.

One major impact of the pandemic has been the devastating financial loss to the entire cruise industry. The council is also working to address this issue.

“We continue to work with our fellow U.S. seaport associations to press for emergency relief for U.S. seaports, including cruise ports,” said Wheeler. “Unfortunately, seaports have been left out of prior emergency relief legislation. The good news is that Congress created the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program last year. Unfortunately, it was not funded within the omnibus bill passed by Congress at the end of the year. We are hopeful that funding for the program will be included in this next relief package.”

On the Great Lakes, Port Milwaukee has, since April 2020, been proactively addressing the pandemic through various means, says Jazmine Jurkiewicz, the port’s Trade Development Representative. 

“Port Milwaukee has continued to make preparations for the 2021 cruising season and beyond,” Jurkiewicz said. All regulations imposed by the CDC and Department of Transportation have been closely monitored and adhered to. While not a regulating body in the United States, Transport Canada is also a major factor in the cruising industry for the Great Lakes and has been closely monitored as well.”

Port Milwaukee has also purchased a new mobile X-ray trailer to reduce the physical interaction between passengers and security teams clearing luggage. It is expected to be delivered in July. Jurkiewicz said the port is also “continuing collaboration and coordination with the Milwaukee Cruise Collaborative members to distribute information effectively to local tourism organizations.”

At the municipal government level, the city of Milwaukee Health Department has performed detailed evaluations to examine the exposure risk at the port and all recommendations have been followed.

On the West Coast, the Port of San Diego, California’s third-largest cruise gateway to the Mexican Riviera and other major southern destinations, has made pandemic response a big part of its daily routine.

“We will be working with local health officials, cruise line officials and other authorities to put the needed infrastructure in place to resume operations when the time comes,” said Adam Deaton, the port’s Senior Trade account executive.

“One possible plan is to open a 9,000-square-foot area of the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal that would enlarge it to better respect and manage social distancing,” 

Deaton continued: “We expect, through the CDC framework process, to reopen cruise and guidelines. We anticipate those guidelines will include extra cleaning and disinfection protocols, face covering requirements, social distancing protocols, staggered and scheduled cruise passenger check-ins, plexiglass use to provide safety barriers between passengers and terminal workers, availability of hand sanitizer and handwashing, temperature checks and more.”

He added that all inbound vessels must notify the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection 14 days ahead of their scheduled arrival in San Diego, even if no one on board is exhibiting symptoms and, of course, to notify the two agencies immediately if anyone aboard a vessel is exhibiting symptoms of communicable diseases such as COVID-19.

At the Port of Galveston, where cruise operations provide 65 percent of annual port revenues, the response has been in a serious and rapid fashion.

“We’ve been working with the cruise industry and others for the safe, sustainable return of cruising in 2021,” says Rodger Rees, port director and CEO, Galveston Wharves. “We’ve invested more than $73,000 in health and safety enhancements at our two cruise terminals in preparation for cruise activity ramping up,” 

Galveston, the fourth most popular cruise port in North America, immediately began, along with cruise and shipping lines, to monitor daily life at Galveston Wharves.

Early in the pandemic, Galveston Wharves hosted a multi-agency tabletop exercise to review and coordinate planning, responses and communications among the local, state and federal entities that would respond if the coronavirus impacted the Galveston maritime industry.

That initial meeting laid the groundwork for a longer and continuous planning process for ports and terminals. 

With the possibility of some cruise lines restarting their business, cruise lines and ports are exploring more robust screening protocols, expanded cleaning and sanitation practices and comprehensive shipboard prevention, surveillance and response measures.

Galveston Wharves is planning a number of changes in its two cruise terminals, including touchless bathroom fixtures, plexiglass shields in customer service areas and enhanced air handling systems plus various other health and safety concepts are being explored.

In 2019, the cruise industry had a $1.6 billion economic impact in Texas, making it extremely vital to the Lone Star State.

Port Tampa Bay’s response to COVID-19 was, like others, swift.

“We responded immediately and swiftly to the pandemic,” said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay’s president & CEO. “Prior to the CDC’s no-sail order, we had already begun disinfecting our cruise terminals and increasing daily cleaning efforts.” 

The port says it will follow the guidance of the CDC and individual cruise lines on whether they will require COVID-19 tests for passengers.

In addition, Anderson said, “Port Tampa Bay has taken extra precautions to keep our cruise terminals clean and disinfected and we sanitize them with an EPA-approved chemical to prevent the spread of COVID-19 every 30 days. We will continue to take this precaution when cruises resume.”

Port Tampa Bay is “working closely with our cruise line partners to follow the updated CDC guidelines for the conditional sailing order and we are prepared to welcome them back when they are ready,” Anderson added.


Halifax Port Pursuing Industry Collaboration

The advancement of PIER, a recently established sector-focused living lab for maritime transportation and logistics, at the Port of Halifax, NS, is gaining momentum, says Andrew Black, the Halifax Port Authority’s (HPA) Director, Strategic Technology and Executive Director of PIER (Port Innovation, Engagement, and Research).

PIER will provide opportunities to interact directly with end-users, receive actionable insights, and for solutions to be visible to industry-specific investors plus provide a working area for companies with expertise in maritime transportation and logistics who see opportunity to develop solutions alongside global industry leaders.

Black said PIER announced its founding partners in March and along with the Port of Halifax includes CN, PSA Halifax (south-end container terminal operator) and OMC International, an Australian maritime engineering company that has developed award-winning e-Navigation technology. Since that announcement, Saab Technologies has also joined the partners.

We are very excited that we are going to have these global entities investing in our ecosystem and helping to advance major projects through our port,” Black said.

PIER has also garnered interest from various corporations and entities from places such as Marseille, Rotterdam, Perth, Victoria, and Montreal plus there has been dialogue with global ports including Rotterdam, Singapore, and others. “They are all showing a high degree of innovation activity that we are advancing through the PIER,” he said.

Black said initial discussions with the founding partners “have focused on things like working together to define metrics for success,” which will provide a vision to better deal with issues and challenges.

In addition to a virtual aspect of PIER, there will also be a physical aspect at the port. Renovations began in March with plans to have the area complete in September.

PIER was recently included in new projects announced by Canada’s Ocean Supercluster.

A PIER Data Project will support economic growth both as an ocean transport hub and as a software hub. Through more effective and efficient ocean operations, the project will also create more resilience to the Canadian supply chain. The project is expected to create 10 jobs through the course of the project and 50 indirect jobs in total. For additional information PIER visit:

dry bulk


Charting trade waters brought to a turbulent boil by a raging global pandemic would be difficult to do in the best of times. But these aren’t the best of times.

COVID-19, an uncertain global economy, and challenges to commodity demands and supply chains have all contributed, at least in part, to variances in trade trends. 

Those trends have been very evident in the volatile dry bulk trade.

“The turbulence of the past year has in many ways clouded the underlying fundamentals in the dry bulk shipping market, but with 2020 now behind us, we are in a better position to establish an overview of expectations for 2021,” says Peter Sand, chief shipping analyst with the Baltic International Maritime Council (BIMCO), the world’s largest organization for shipowners, charterers, shipbrokers, and agents. 

“For dry bulk shipping, the year (2020) can be divided in two with lower volumes and earnings in the first half followed by a recovery in the second as China split from the rest of the world, boosting tonne [metric ton] and tonne-mile demand and sending freight rates to profitable levels,” Sand says. “June was the turning point as volumes reached their highest point of the year and earnings jumped, especially for capesize ships.”

The BIMCO analyst points to these statistics: In the first 20 days of 2021, there were 1,427 capesize trips, up 10.4 percent over the same period in 2020. That strong start was reflected in earnings that, after high volatility in 2019 and 2020, have averaged $22,015 per day since the start of the year, comfortably above the $15,300 per day needed for an average capesize ship to break even. Rates peaked at $26,489 per day on Jan. 13 and stood at $24,148 per day on Jan. 19.

A sampling of U.S. ports involved in the dry bulk trade brought varied reactions to evolving trends and changing markets.

“The dry bulk sector is an important backbone of Port Tampa Bay’s activities and a major factor contributing to its status as Florida’s largest cargo tonnage port, as well as being one of the most diversified ports in the country,” says Wade Elliott, the port’s vice president of Business Development.

Elliott pointed to 38 percent—or 12.4 million tons—of Port Tampa Bay’s total cargo volume in 2020 having consisted of dry bulk cargo. Among the major dry bulk commodities handled at the port are phosphate fertilizer products, limestone, cement, granite, gypsum, coal, grain, sulfur, fly ash, salt, slag, pumice and bauxite.

Despite the pandemic, Port Tampa Bay’s total dry bulk cargo volume increased by 3 percent last year, and,” the VP says, “we are expecting that trend to continue. The demand for building materials remains very strong driven by Florida’s continued strong population growth, which is fueling the real estate construction market. The outlook for Port Tampa Bay fertilizer exports is also positive as Florida phosphate products are shipped around the world helping farmers meet expanding demand.” 

As the port’s dry bulk sector grows, the port is working closely with its dry bulk tenants to support their expansion of terminal facilities to keep pace with the demand by adding additional berths and storage.

Port Milwaukee has also managed to stay the course in the dry-bulk trade by keeping up on new trends and market conditions, working closely and regularly with port tenants and key stakeholders and leveraging opportunities collaboratively, according to Maria Cartier, the Market Development manager at the Great Lakes port. 

An example of taking advantage of market conditions, Cartier says, “is our partnership with the DeLong Company in the planned development of a new $31-million agricultural marine export facility. This new facility addresses the increased global demand for dry distilled grain solubles, a by-product of ethanol used in animal feed.” 

The port also “participates in conferences, events and various forums that allow us to network with industry partners and helps keep us up-to-date on new market conditions and developments,” she added.

Port Milwaukee is optimistic that by staying in tune with trends and markets, it will promote cargo growth. 

“A strong demand for Wisconsin-based agriculture, investments in infrastructure and our role as a major supplier of road salt to the region will continue to support our position as a primary handler of dry bulk materials on the Great Lakes,” Cartier says.

Dry bulk commodities—salt, cement, bottom ash and grain—account for approximately 80 percent of Port Milwaukee’s overall commodity throughput, according to the marketing manager.

“COVID-19 has not affected our cargo throughput thanks to Port Milwaukee’s team of expert staff and long-term tenants,” Cartier says. “Through their collaborative efforts, we have maintained safe, efficient and healthful operations without commercial interruption.” 

Dry bulk cargoes comprise about 7 percent of the Port of Corpus Christi’s (PCC) overall volumes that include a variety of commodities such as barite, iron ore fines, DRI, pet coke, slag, sulfur, grain such as sorghum and wheat. 

Unlike some ports, PCC has not escaped the pandemic.

COVID-19 “has impacted our oil and gas cargoes such as barite and some construction activity on aggregates coming in,” notes Eddie Martinez, PCC’s Trade Development manager. “Drilling activity has slowed down, in part due to COVID, as has a slowdown in construction overall,”

Although COVID is a constant these days, it hasn’t stopped the Texas port on the Gulf of Mexico from moving forward with growth in mind.

“PCC continues to make investments in our terminals to improve overall logistics for dry bulk cargo,” says Martinez. “The port acquired a new Liebherr crane in late 2019 to improve our overall discharge rate. Bulk grains are active and should continue to remain active in 2021.” 

The expectation, he said, is that dry bulk cargo will remain steady with nominal gains. Amid unpredictable market changes in the trade sector, PCC’s strategy is to work “hand-in-hand daily within our departments for capital project planning to improve overall facilities for our current and new customers to include planning, operations, engineering and trade development,” Martinez says. “We are actively engaged with our customers on their annual expectations and trends affecting them and offer possible solutions where we might be able to support them with logistic and infrastructure that may require capital on rail or waterfront.”

Even without a global pandemic, building dry bulk markets brings challenges, he notes. “PCC has to analyze where our strengths lie when being approached on new dry bulk opportunities. Some of our facilities are showing their age, and PCC is making necessary investments to get them up to standard. 

“Further, not every cargo is suitable for our port. The commodity itself, destination or origin, air permit limits, rail and dock infrastructure all play a role in the selection of new dry bulk market development. The port reviews each opportunity and tries to identify if it’s a good fit for both the customer and the port. We want to create a relationship where the client can really grow their business model here in our area and region for years to come.”