When the Evergreen Triton arrived at the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore on May 24, it became the largest container ship ever to visit Maryland. The vessel that can handle 14,424 twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) containers surpassed the 11,000-TEU Gunde Maersk, which as of the previous October had been the largest container ship to ever visit Maryland. The Gunde Maersk had one upped a 9,700-TEU Mediterranean Shipping Co. vessel, which in 2017 became the Maryland record-setter.
Exactly 30 days before the Evergreen Triton milestone, the Jacksonville Port Authority set a record when the ZIM vessel Kota Pekarang became the largest container ship to ever call JAXPORT. The 11,923-TEU vessel transited the Panama Canal from Northeast Asia before reaching the U.S. East Coast and discharging and loading cargo at JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal on April 24. Less than a month before that—on March 18, to be precise—the 11,000-TEU ZIM vessel Cape Sounio had become the JAXPORT record-holder when it docked at Blount Island.
To say that the biggest of the big ships have been coming fast and furious to select East Coast ports lately would be an understatement, not that any of these calls caught anyone off guard. “Thanks to Maryland’s investment in a 50-foot berth, every year we are seeing larger and larger container ships choosing the Port of Baltimore,” Governor Larry Hogan said upon the Evergreen Triton arrival. Likewise, JAXPORT, which is Florida’s No. 1 container port complex by volume, is deepening its harbor to keep up with the biggest-of-the-big-ship demand.
According to recently released rankings of America’s top 30 ports by TEUs in 2018, the Port of Los Angeles and its Southern California sister the Port of Long Beach hold the top two spots respectively, just as they did in 2017. But LA’s TEU growth of 5.40 percent in 2018 from 2017, as well as Long Beach’s 6.80 percent jump over the same period, were below the 7.80 percent combined average of the nation’s top 30 ports. Meanwhile, though the Port of New York and New Jersey and Port of Savannah (Georgia) maintained their 2017 slots as the country’s third and fourth top ports in 2018 respectively, those East Coast ports saw TEU year-to-year growth rise by 12.80 percent and 10.80 percent.
“New York came closer than ever to overtaking Long Beach as the second largest port for imports after the raising of the Bayonne Bridge and investments by Maersk in new cranes allowed a 12.8 percent rise in shipments, leaving it with a 14.5 percent share of all seaborne imports to the United States,” writes Patrick Burnson, executive editor with Logistics Management, in a piece crunching the top port numbers. Burnson goes on to credit the widening of the Panama Canal in 2016—which led to East Coast ports deepening their channels and erecting massive cranes to accommodate Post-Panamax vessels—with the Eastern Seaboard’s continued rise.
Savannah’s upgrades are credited with drawing shipping business away from others in the East. Among those who have taken notice is Seaboard Marine, which in May launched a new direct, all-water service that will have both refrigerated and dry container service to and from the Port of Savannah and North Central America, including Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
A different public-private partnership is credited with spurring the growth enjoyed by the state of Maryland, whose Department of Transportation points to its Maryland Port Administration and Ports America Chesapeake. So far that pact has brought about a 50-foot deep channel and 50-foot deep berth to accommodate the mega-ships traveling through the Panama Canal and past other ports before pulling into the Old Line State, which may be compelled to change its nickname to the “Old and New Shipping Line State.”
As Bayard Hogans, vice president of Ports America Chesapeake, said upon Triton’s arrival, “The partnership between the Port of Baltimore, Ports America Chesapeake and Evergreen will continue to allow the world’s largest container ships to deliver the goods and commodities that power America’s economy through Maryland.”
A different partnership is paying dividends at another East Coast port. The rearrangement of services prompted by container alliances forged overseas has been cited as a factor in the Port of Miami experiencing 20.80 percent TEU growth in 2018 compared to a year before.
There are 1 billion reasons PortMiami shows up on the international shipping radar—namely $1 billion in infrastructure projects that have created an on-dock intermodal rail system, dredged the deep-water channel to welcome Post-Panamax vessels and carved a direct-access tunnel leading to the interstate highway system. And don’t forget PortMiami Foreign Trade Zone 281. PortMiami’s cargo and container ship operations, coupled with its world-famous luxury cruise line industry, are credited with generating $43 billion in economic activity countywide and statewide.
The gulf side of Florida is also getting attention from abroad, as proven by French container shipping giant CMA CGM having launched service to Port Tampa Bay in late May. The new Pacific Express 3 service rotation is: Singapore; Vung Tau; Hong Kong; Shekou; Ningbo; Shanghai; Busan; Panama Canal; Houston; Mobile; New Orleans; Tampa; Miami; and back to Singapore.
Port Tampa Bay, which was at the ready with two Post-Panamax cranes to complement three existing gantry cranes, is currently investing in new facilities to further diversify its service and implementing a phased build-out plan to quadruple capacity over the next few years.
Another move that began outside the U.S. that is expected to help East Coast ports is the London-based International Maritime Organization imposing its low-sulfur fuel rule that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The resulting number crunching spurred by the higher fuel costs is expected to ultimately draw ships away from the Suez Canal in favor of the shorter route from Asia to the American East Coast through the Panama Canal. This is despite the Central American waterway’s transit fees being higher than what the Suez Canal Authority charges.
As the larger ports along the Eastern Seaboard make the billion-dollar moves aimed at luring the world’s largest container vessels, smaller operations are also finding success filling niches. Take, for instance, the Connecticut Port Authority, whose main port at New London is about halfway between New York and Boston. Though the CPA was only formed in 2016, it has already filled a niche when it comes to wind energy. In yet another public-private partnership, the CPA; Gateway, which operates terminals in New Haven; Eversource, the regional energy provider previously known as Northeast Utilities; and Denmark-based Ørsted are the players in the Bay State Wind joint venture. Among Bay State Wind’s upcoming projects is the $93 million redevelopment of State Pier in New London.