Shipping lines have responded to containerized trade growth by increasing vessel size, which has resulted in fewer port calls to move the same number of containers. And larger vessel sizes also limit which ports can be called due to insufficient access channel depths and air drafts as well as cranes to serve the biggest ships.
“A useful proxy is the average size of containerships transiting the Panama Canal—which increased by 13.1 percent during the canal’s most recent fiscal year (ended Sept. 30, 2018),” states Cushman & Wakefield’s 2019 North American Port Outlook. “The Panama Canal Authority reports that its Neopanamax Locks can now handle ships of almost 15,000 TEUs. Large ship visits are now increasingly common at East Coast ports that have the requisite water depths in channels and at berths. How large will vessels get? Orders have been placed for ships as large as 23,000 TEUs.”
The industry trend toward larger vessels has caused ports to literally dig deeper, particularly on the East Coast. Port of Miami last year completed $1 billion in infrastructure improvements that increased the channel depth to 50-52 feet and also included the addition of a fast access tunnel with direct access to the interstate, the modernization of the on-dock freight rail system and the installation of new Super Post-Panamax cranes that have an outreach of 22 containers wide. Among the projects at other East Coast ports that got underway in 2019 were:
*The $32.7 million deepenings of a second container berth to 50 feet at the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal, which should be done later this year.
*Port of Jacksonville’s Harbor Deepening, which will take the shipping channel to a depth of 47 feet, is expected to conclude in 2023, as is a coinciding project to construct a $238.7 million international container terminal at Blount Island. JAXPORT has already widened Mile Point Harbor (only mitigation work was outstanding at press time), and turning basins at Brills Cut, which is authorized and under review, and Blount Island, which is in the design phase, are also part of the deepening project.
*Port of Virginia increasing the channel depth to: 59 feet in the Atlantic Ocean Channel; 56 feet at Thimble Shoals; and 55 feet in the Norfolk Harbor and Newport News Channels. It also includes widening the channel in select areas to include Thimble Shoals over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
Deepening the Port of Charleston’s Harbor Entrance Channel up to its busiest container terminal, the Wando Welch, is expected by early 2021 and will allow the port to handle 14,000 to 18,000 TEU vessels drawing 50 feet or more without significant depth and other navigational restrictions. Port Everglades’ widening and deepening of navigation channels from 42 feet to 48-50 feet is expected to be completed between 2021-2025. The Georgia Ports Authority’s deepening of Savannah Harbor and its shipping channel from an authorized depth of 44 feet to 47 feet is slated for completion by late 2021 or early 2022.
As ports scramble to accommodate the biggest ships, some shippers have already been taking advantage of their arrival. As the Georgia Ports Authority announced in December it was on track to exceed 4.6 million TEUs for the first time in a calendar year, GPA Board Chairman Will McKnight remarked, “Exciting new business opportunities such as the export of the Georgia-made Kia Telluride, and resins produced in Pennsylvania and the Gulf States, as well as the import of cold-treated fresh produce, are driving the increase in trade through our deepwater ports.”
In roll-on/roll-off cargo, Colonel’s Island Terminal at the GPA’s Port of Brunswick handled 500,512 units of cars, trucks and tractors from January through October 2019. Ocean Terminal in Savannah added another 37,476 for a total of 537,988 units. As of December, total Ro/Ro trade was up for the year by 3,300 units, helping to make Georgia is the second busiest U.S. hub for the import-export of Ro/Ro cargo behind only Baltimore.
Another milestone was the GPA’s decade of partnership with Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG), which has shipped nearly 350,000 TEU of parts and materials through the Port of Savannah to supply its manufacturing plant near the town of West Point, supporting thousands of jobs in Georgia’s transportation and logistics supply chain. Kia also sends shipments in the other direction with overseas exports of the American-made Kia SUV, the Telluride.
“From the first production equipment arriving at the Port of Savannah in 2008 to the first Kia Telluride exports that left the Port of Brunswick this past February (2019), KMMG, the Georgia Ports Authority and the State of Georgia have maintained a strong bond,” said KMMG President and CEO Jason Shin in a statement.
February 2019 was also momentous for Port Manatee, which is the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the expanded Panama Canal. Then-new terminal operator Carver Maritime Manatee LLC on Feb. 6 brought nearly 50,000 tons of raw material to be used in Florida cement manufacturing. The 47,650 metric tons of the bulk material brought from Europe on the Osprey I to the Central-Southwest Florida Gulf Coast port was soon followed by other Carver shipments.
As part of an agreement with Port Manatee that could extend for as many as 20 years, Carver has extensively renovated a 10-acre cargo facility with deepwater access, including rehabilitating a 1,400-foot-long conveyor system on the leased site. “We are delighted to have Carver as an active participant in the expansion of our port,” said Carlos Buqueras, Port Manatee’s executive director, at the time. “Carver’s operations are a perfect complement to the increasingly diverse activity taking place at Manatee County’s seaport.”
Taking advantage of deepwater ports is not confined to the East Coast, however. In Washington state, the Port of Vancouver USA received the largest single shipment of wind turbine blades in the history blade manufacturer Vestas on June 24, 2019, breaking the previous record of 156 blades on a single ship.
The 198 blades, each measuring 161 feet long, were manufactured and shipped from Italy. Once unloaded from the ship, the blades were moved to the port’s Terminal 5, which boasts 86 acres of unobstructed laydown area with immediate proximity to the port’s deep-water berths. From there, the blades were transported by truck to the Marengo wind farm near Dayton, Washington, where they are now being used to re-power existing turbines.
“With our North American headquarters based in Portland, it is especially gratifying to be part of bringing the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy to the Pacific Northwest,” said Chris Brown, president of Vestas North America, which partnered with project owner PacifiCorp on the blade shipment. “The arrival of this shipment and its 198 blades, represent the significant supply chain industry and jobs created and supported by the wind energy economy. We’re proud to partner with PacifiCorp and the Port to bring more wind energy benefits to Washington.”
Shrugged Vancouver USA’s Chief Commercial Officer Alex Strogen, “The port is uniquely qualified to handle these types of projects.”