New Articles




Every day seems to bring about more bad news at our nation’s ports. In September, the government reported that auto sales fell because of chip shortages that left car dealers with few vehicles to sell. 

Now, more than ever, how a port communicates with the public and the businesses that rely on it is crucial, especially into the holiday shopping season. That port communication goes beyond just a well-designed website to include apps, social media, email alerts and newsletters all working together to communicate with one voice.

So, how should ports begin to think about their brand and their messaging to the public? 

As an agency specializing in branding and user experience (UX), we learned much through several key projects with the Port of Long Beach (POLB). The challenge was identifying and enabling key user tasks for each of the Southern California port’s audience segments. We designed a role-based dashboard that delivered an effective and streamlined user experience. Meanwhile, an improved content structure and organization made the port’s thousands of information resources easier for users to find and access.

What follows are tips for ports to improve the user experience of their websites and how best to work with an agency to achieve that.

Tip #1 – The Bar is Low, Which Creates Opportunity

Most port websites are average at best in terms of design, UX and content. The bar is very low. That creates a distinct opportunity for those ports that want to establish digital leadership. Thinking in terms of their “brand” presents numerous challenges for ports for many reasons, not least of which is the number of stakeholders involved. While working with POLB, we had a team of approximately 50 core stakeholders that were involved in most of the important reviews and decisions. Additionally, we worked with teams representing all of the port’s different internal groups: marketing, community relations, environment, security, IT, etc. 

Managing, coordinating and communicating with a large, diverse group of stakeholders and constituents is both art and science. Any port should make sure their agency partner has experience with this kind of “crowd control.” Because if not, it can quickly derail a project and add time and cost. A certain amount of political savvy also comes in handy as most port-related projects require some degree of coordination with the harbor commission and local government agencies. 

Tip #2 – Ports are More Democratic than Private Companies, That’s a Good Thing

Ports and all of our public-facing clients tend to be far more democratic than our private sector clients. That means they’re open to trying new things as long as there is consensus, rather than decisions being driven by one owner or a small team of partners, who can easily fall into group-think.

Of course, the democratic approach requires a little more time but we feel like we get better input and results working this way. This approach does, however, require some additional time in the schedule but delivers the advantage of creating a deep and comprehensive understanding of the input we receive from employees, partners and stakeholders. 

Tip #3 – Role-Based Resources

Most ports and their websites are accessed by the same types of users: truckers, port/dock workers, cargo owners, shippers, etc. Developing role-based entry points (i.e. “Click here for Trucker Resources”) will help users connect with the right content quickly. While we see that some ports make efforts to include these types of customer-oriented pages, they are often light on content and functionality that actually enhances the customer experience. It’s also crucial these pages are mobile-friendly since most port workers are accessing the website from a phone or tablet while in or around the port facility. 

Most port websites have hundreds, if not thousands of documents, forms and permits. When these informational resources are difficult to find, it will generate a high volume of unnecessary calls to the port’s call center. Making sure these basic items are easy to find and easy to access will go a long way in eliminating unnecessary customer frustration and calls that could have otherwise been avoided with a better customer experience online. 

This trend in the digital world—the idea of customer self-service—is critical in delivering the right experience online. So, make sure that all of these content elements are well-organized and easily accessible to customers of all types. Not only will this deliver a better experience for those customers, it will also create operational efficiency for ports that are always looking to do more with less. 

Tip #4 – Harbor Commission and Port Politics 

Let’s face it: Ports are political entities, so when you bring in creative partners, it’s vital to choose one that has experience working directly with port commissioners and who understand the nature of the port approval process. Our work with the POLB required frequent meetings with the harbor commissioners to keep them abreast of project decisions and developments. We also coordinated our efforts with the City of Long Beach mayor’s office and the various municipal organizations that fall within the city’s domain. 

That also means making key presentations in forums like public access TV and radio to discuss the strategy with the public. Knowing that this will be a part of the project and approval process allows us to plan ahead and tailor our approach to the unique needs of whatever harbor commission and/or port we are working with.

Tip #5 – Don’t Forget the Port is a Place 

Most ports are large, sprawling areas that encompass a vast amount of physical space. Given this fact, it’s somewhat ironic that many port websites lack an effective port map. For the POLB, we looked at a wide range of map styles and map data sources to identify the right blend of design and information. 

Ultimately, we ended up creating a semi-customized approach (as opposed to simply using Google Maps or MapQuestion right out of the box) so the map could be tailored to the specific needs of POLB customers. 

Tip #6 – Think Long and Hard About Content Volume and Content Migration

Most port websites contain a significant volume of content and have hundreds if not thousands of pages. One of the most critical aspects of any port website redesign is the content migration process. Because this process involves many different groups within the port deciding what content to migrate to the new site vs. content to retire or replace, it can take a significant chunk of time. 

Starting this process earlier in the project lifecycle is critical. In fact, getting the migration rolling at the beginning of the project makes the most sense. Most of our private sector clients don’t have nearly as much content nor does the content review for those private-sector clients generally involve as many stakeholders or checkpoints. With ports, there are communication guidelines, content accessibility/usability standards, regulatory reviews, legal reviews and stakeholder reviews. So, it’s best to get the migration going as soon as possible to ensure that it doesn’t hold up the rest of the design and development activities.

No one knows what the future holds for our logistical supply chain, but ports can ease the stress on everyone who interacts with the port by taking the time to think creatively and strategically about the experience their customers will have online. Think about it as more than just a website: It is a customer web portal. If those customers are coming to your site for information and leaving more stressed and no less informed, then your site is an epic fail. And that’s a fail you can’t afford as the economy continues to rebound.


Jason Widmann is director of Strategy, Creative and UX at Stellar Agency, a digital design shop based in El Segundo, California, that focuses on the design and development of digital products, services and platforms.

south ports detention reshoring


Port managers have tried, mightily, to cope with the pandemic’s shockwaves. They have been simultaneously caught up in an avalanche of challenges: trade wars, the pandemic, port congestion and labor and shipping container shortages. Providing as they do the key infrastructure to international trade and the global economy, shipping and ports are estimated to handle more than 80% of global goods trade by volume and over 70% by value. 

International maritime trade volumes were estimated to have fallen by 4.1% in 2020, but all of the expert projections suggest that they’ll not recover at any time before the end of this year. During the pandemic, ports have had to adjust to the reality of lower volumes, worker shortages, the implementation of occupational health and safety measures for dockers and shore personnel, and the adoption of teleworking and remote operations for office workers.

The shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has left no port unaffected while exacerbating certain existing challenges. Ports have been heavily impacted by developments in the shipping sector, where some shipping lines have gone into “survival mode,” affecting container and cargo markets, with knock-on effects that may be felt for years to come. The volatility may push some ports to reassess their business models.

Although the pandemic has strengthened the case for further investment in digitalization and innovation, ports are under intense pressure to reduce costs and be more attractive to the supply chains that use their infrastructure. For example, a survey commissioned by the International Association of Ports and Harbors found that 69% of surveyed ports indicated that the majority of their investment plans had been delayed or amended.

Port officials across the country are not wallowing in the gloom and doom. They don’t have time to. No, they are looking ahead to a 2022 filled with strategies to cure (or at least address) what ails them . . . and lies ahead.

Wanted: Congestion Relief 

At Morgan Stanley’s ninth annual Laguna Conference, a virtual gathering in mid-September of transportation and logistics industry leaders, Expeditors International of Washington’s management was quoted stating that they had never before seen capacity “so scarce in both air and ocean at the same time.”

Looking to the future, Expeditors expects the environment to “remain unsettled as long as constrained capacity and other disruptions, such as port congestion, the uneven lifting of pandemic-restrictions and rising fuel costs continue to impact the movement of freight.” 

A month after that conference, a backlog of ships remained idle off the Southern California coast waiting for their turn to dock, a visual that beachgoers had taken in for the past several months before. And federal regulators at press time were investigating whether the cause of a massive, beach-clearing oil slick was caused by a container ship anchor ripping into a pipeline. 

On Oct. 12, 58 container ships were at anchor or adrift off the shoreline, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. The following day, President Joe Biden announced a deal to keep the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles open 24/7 to alleviate the severe bottlenecks. 

Providing more time for trucks to pick up and return shipping containers to improve freight movement and reduce delays through the port complex is the main strategy of the Biden plan, although exact details were still being worked out at press time. As Biden and Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka both mentioned, systemic change of such magnitude will necessitate many supply chain stakeholders to work in tandem.

“The significance of today’s announcement is the commitment from industry leaders responsible for moving goods on behalf of American consumers and businesses to open up the capacity needed to deliver,” wrote Seroka in an email, as reported by the online news site Long Beach Post. “It’s a call to action for others to follow.”

That call is certainly not being ignored by Seroka’s partner in maritime, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero, who wrote in a statement of his own, “Before this unprecedented cargo surge began, we believed 24/7 operations were the future. After all, consumers can shop online at any time, whether it’s at 4 p.m. or 4 a.m., and 24/7 is already the standard at our partner ports in Asia. The supply chain truly never stops now.”

Indeed, a month before Biden blew into town, Total Terminals International container terminal on Pier T in Long Beach launched a pilot program that makes it easier for trucks to access the facility during the overnight hours.

“Our waterfront workforce is moving cargo as quickly as possible as we continue to collaborate with stakeholders from throughout the goods movement industry to develop solutions for our capacity challenges,” says Long Beach Harbor Commission President Steven Neal. “This cargo surge is anticipated to last well into 2022, so we need to start thinking of new ways to meet the expected growth in goods movement and rising consumer demand.”

Labor Pain Relief, Too, Please

An insatiable demand for new products is part of the blame for port congestion, which is complicated by “the overarching challenge on the labor front,” J.B. Hunt officials reported during the Laguna Conference. “There are times when certain ports or terminals close for periods of time, creating significant whipsaws in the supply chain. The sooner that cargo can get into warehouses or on the shelf, the sooner capacity is freed up, and that is a major component of what is going on in the system.”

Officials from competitor Werner Enterprises echoed that “on the supply side, the driver issue is expected to remain a problem for a while (potentially exacerbated by vaccine mandates–management estimates less than half of the broader driver population is vaccinated) and the equipment problem looks to actually be getting worse.” 

However, there is some silver lining to all the gloom and doom. An especially strong holiday shopping season to end topsy-turvy 2021 may lessen the sting of expected underperformance into at least early 2022, the Werner team reported. 

Union Pacific officials, who are also dealing with slow unloading of containers due to port and driver labor issues, noted that “while there are structural issues in that system, there is also capacity to staff up and get trucks in place. The West Coast ports are also looking to put things into place (automation, union deals, etc.) to get the network moving smoother.”

Investment in new technology seems to be the answer to everything along the supply chain these days, and the port’s portion is no exception. San Francisco tech company Vector claims its electronic bill of lading solution can get drivers in and out of facilities more quickly, to the tune of 43 minutes of drive time. 

How huge is that? Mega-huge. According to David Correll, co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Freight Lab, if drivers get just 12 minutes back toward driving, the “truck driver issue” could be solved.

Rebuild, Remodel, Rehabilitate, Rebound 

Biden pivoted during his 24/7 announcement to promote his landmark infrastructure bill, which includes $17 billion for port infrastructure, or the “biggest investment in our ports in our history.”

However, with Republicans balking at the bill’s $4.5 trillion cost (at this writing) and infighting among Democrats over whether to trim or not to trim the price tag to make it more palatable, the legislation remains tied up in Congress (ditto).

It’s a shame, to hear Seroka tell it. He claims West Coast ports have experienced more than a decade of underinvestment by the federal government and that had better change to address the influx/lack of movement of cargo. 

Of course, ports around the country are not waiting on the government to make major infrastructure improvements. For a deeper dive on many of these, see the story elsewhere in this issue by Mary Scott Nabers, president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc. But for improvements with an eye toward sustainability, we look to the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA), whose board of directors recently approved the creation of a funding mechanism for six new projects that will reduce current air emissions and improve rail access for in-state businesses. 

A new transloading/cross-dock facility adjacent to the Union Pacific Intermodal Railyard will offer international and domestic cargo stakeholders a cost-effective and efficient inland alternative option by leveraging existing infrastructure and Union Pacific’s services and proximity to the rail ramp in Salt Lake City, according to the UIPA. An investment-grade business case analysis commissioned by the UIPA identified at minimum the three California port gateways—Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland—for the transloading facility to compete with for international cargo volumes.

The transload facility will be constructed with eco-friendly building materials and include sustainable construction technology, increased water and energy efficiency, reduced waste and emissions and improved indoor environmental quality, according to the UIPA.

The port authority is also seeking to acquire an easement across a privately-owned landfill to open up rail access north of Interstate 80, an existing rail spur and test track that connects to a short line, and the blessing of Salt Lake County officials to provide additional freight connectivity by building out 7200 West from State Route 201 to 700 North.

The UIPA is working with partners to develop a renewable fueling station for private and/or public use that will serve hydrogen, electric and liquid and compressed natural gas vehicles, and with the Department of Homeland Security to reassign agents to Utah for a customs bonded facility with rail access, loading docks for bonded warehousing and storage capacity.

“All these projects are designed to address gaps currently in Utah’s logistic system, which is the primary role of the port authority,” said Jack Hedge, UIPA executive director. “Providing this underlying infrastructure supports the entire ecosystem of the jurisdictional area–from a logistics standpoint, to the environment, to the community–everyone benefits.”

Let’s Be Careful Out There

The Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) also has coming improvements aimed at maintaining the Florida facility’s ranking as the 10th busiest container port in the U.S. by TEUs and among the nation’s top vehicle-handling ports. But JAXPORT also has security on its mind, as demonstrated by a new program that brings together tenants, vessel operators, rail and intermodal stakeholders, key vendors, and local public sector organizations.

To address a national priority initiative of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Captain of the Port, JAXPORT has partnered with the nonprofit Maritime Transportation System Information Sharing and Analysis Center to form a new cybersecurity information sharing cooperative called the Northeast Florida Maritime Information Exchange (NEFL-MIX). 

“Cybersecurity is a critical part of supply chain security,” says JAXPORT CEO Eric Green. “We are thrilled to launch this important initiative to protect our maritime community from cyber threats and ensure that our port-related businesses can continue to do the important work they do to keep cargo moving and people working throughout Northeast Florida.”

JAXPORT’s involvement does not surprise Christy Coffey, vice president of Operations with for the Maritime Transportation System Information Sharing and Analysis Center. “They have been influential in the design of our Information Exchange program and an active contributor to our [center] since inception,” she says, “so it’s rewarding to see the NEFL-MIX become reality. This busy port has included a diverse group of stakeholders in their cybersecurity information exchange. We know that under JAXPORT’s thoughtful leadership, the NEFL-MIX will positively impact both cybersecurity preparedness and response.”



Trade in and out of the United States would not be possible without sea and river port infrastructure spread across the length and breadth of the country. Using the latest available figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, we present the top 50 American power ports based on total tonnage of trade processed in 2019. 

1. Houston, TX

Total tons: 284.9 million 

Located within easy reach of the Gulf of Mexico, the Port of Houston is one of the world’s largest ports, ranking sixth globally for total container TEUs. It is a huge complex made up of public and private facilities that stretches over 50 miles.  

2. South Louisiana, LA

Total tons: 233 million

Spanning 54 miles along the Mississippi River, the Port of South Louisiana is located in America’s leading grain exporting district. Port companies’ activities support more than 30,000 jobs, which represents 63% of all jobs in the River Region.

3. New York, NY and NJ

Total tons: 136.6 million 

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the busiest container port on the East Coast of the United States. Such is the strategic importance of its location, around a third of all US GDP is produced within 250 miles of the site. 

4. Corpus Christi, TX

Total tons: 111.2 million

In operation since 1926, the Port of Corpus Christi has become known as the Energy Port of the Americas, serving as the country’s second largest exporter of crude oil. It boasts a 36-mile, 47-foot-deep channel and is strategically located next to some of Texas’s largest highways. 

5. Beaumont, TX

Total tons: 101.1 million

Another Texan port, Beaumont is a well-developed facility that handles a range of cargoes, including bulk grain, aggregate, liquid petroleum, forest products, military equipment cargo, metals, and more. Its annual economic activity exceeds $24.5 billion. 

6. New Orleans, LA

Total tons: 92.2 million

The Port of New Orleans is a multimodal gateway that combines rail, river and road and is located on the Mississippi River near the Gulf of Mexico. It is also the sixth largest cruise port in the United States.

7. Long Beach, CA

Total tons: 80.7 million 

Sprawling across 3,520 acres of land and 4,600 acres of water, California’s Port of Long Beach handles more than 8 million TEUs every year, cargo which is worth in excess of $200 billion and delivered by more than 2,000 vessels.

8. Baton Rouge, LA

Total tons: 73.4 million

The Port of Greater Baton Rouge lies at the convergence of the Mississippi River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, providing easy access to the U.S. heartland via 15,000 miles of inland water transportation. 

9. Los Angeles, CA

Total tons: 63 million

The busiest seaport in the Western Hemisphere, the Port of Los Angeles handles a hugely diverse range of commodities, from avocados to zinc and a whole lot in between. It is situated 25 miles south of downtown LA and spans 7,500 acres along 43 miles of waterfront.

10. Virginia, VA

Total tons: 61.7 million

Based in Norfolk, the Port of Virginia processes more than 4 million containers annually, including those brought over by ultra-large container vessels arriving from the other side of the Atlantic. It is the only East Coast port with congressional authorization for 55-foot-deep channels.

11. Lake Charles, LA

Total tons: 58 million

The Port of Lake Charles brands itself as a dynamic deep-water seaport at the center of the Gulf Coast. In recent years, more than $108 billion of industrial projects have been completed, announced or commenced in and around the complex. 

12. Mobile, AL

Total tons: 56.9 million

Mobile is the only deep-water port in Alabama. Located along the Mobile River, it has direct access to around 1,500 miles of inland and intercoastal waterways that serve the Great Lakes, Ohio and Tennessee river valleys and the Gulf of Mexico.

13. Plaquemines, LA

Total tons: 52.8 million

Nestled in the mouth of the Mississippi River, the Plaquemines Port Harbor & Terminal provides water-based access to some 33 U.S. states, serving key industrial sectors such as oil and gas, grain, coal and chemicals, among others.

14. Baltimore, MD

Total tons: 44.2 million

The Port of Baltimore offers the deepest harbor in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and is within an overnight drive of a third of the nation’s population. It has benefited greatly from the 2016 expansion of the Panama Canal, granting it access to a wider pool of large vessels. 

15. Savannah, GA

Total tons: 41.9 million

The Port of Savannah is within convenient reach of Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Memphis and Orlando. With 10,000 feet of contiguous berth space, it is one of the fastest growing container ports in the country.  

16. Texas City, TX

Total tons: 41.3 million

Although not the largest port in Texas, the Port of Texas City is a vital trading hub for crude oil imports and the export of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, chemicals and petroleum coke. It has been in operation for more than a century.

17. Huntington Tristate

Total tons: 36.8 million

The Port of Huntingdon Tristate is America’s most influential inland port. Centered on the Ohio River, it is also the largest river port in Virginia. 

18. Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky, KY

Total tons: 36.6 million

The Ports of Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky is an inland port complex that covers 226.5 miles of commercially navigable waterways on the Ohio River and Licking River. It is made up of more than 70 active terminals. 

19. Port Arthur, TX

Total tons: 33.9 million

Another jewel in the Texan crown, Port Arthur is based 19 miles from the Gulf of Mexico on the Sabine Neches Waterway. The site completed a significant expansion in 2000 that transformed it into an international facility for cargo shipping. 

20. Duluth-Superior, MN and WI

Total tons: 33.7 million

The twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin, are located at the western part of Lake Superior and represent the farthest inland freshwater seaport in North America. They are home to 20 privately owned bulk cargo docks and an award-wining cargo terminal. 

21. St Louis, MO and WI

Total tons: 31.3 million

Spanning 6,000 acres, the Port of Metropolitan St Louis lies along 15 miles of Mississippi River frontage and has capacity to handle 150 barges a day. It is the second-largest inland port system in the United States. 

22. Tampa, FL

Total tons: 30 million

A well-known cruise terminal, Port Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest cargo tonnage port spanning a 5,000-acre footprint. It can handle ships carrying up to 9,000 TEUs and is flanked by a million square feet of warehouse space and 40-acre container yard. 

23. Freeport, TX

Total tons: 29.8 million

Port Freeport is undergoing a significant harbor channel improvement project to the tune of $295 million that Congress authorized in 2014. The upgrade, which is due for completion in 2025, will offer navigational improvements to calling vessels by deepening and widening the waterway. 

24. Richmond, CA

Total tons: 28.5 million

With roots in petroleum and liquid bulk cargos, the Port of Richmond has become Northern California’s most diversified cargo handler thanks to its expansion into dry bulk, break-bulk and containerized cargo handling. Having also increased its automobile processing facilities, Richmond today ranks No .1 among San Francisco Bay ports in vehicle tonnage.

25. Pascagoula, MS

Total tons: 25.8 million

The Port of Pascagoula is a deep-water port on the southeastern coast of Mississippi. It is split into two major sections–the east and west harbors–which are both home to several public and private cargo terminals. 

26. Valdez, AK

Total tons: 25.2 million

Our first entry from Alaska, the Port of Valdez is America’s farthest north ice-free port. It serves as the southern terminus of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and handles more than 1.5 million barrels of crude oil a day. 

27. Charleston, SC

Total tons: 24.6 million

The Port of Charleston is part of South Carolina Ports, which serves as a vital transit hub for many essential industries in the region, including automotive manufacturing, consumers goods, frozen exports, grain and tire manufacturing. South Carolina Ports generates tax revenue in excess of $1.1 billion every year.

28. Port Everglades, FL

Total tons: 24 million

Billed as Florida’s “powerhouse port,” Port Everglades is located in the heart of Greater Fort Lauderdale and the City of Hollywood. Each year, around $34 billion of economic activity is generated through the port.

29. Seattle, WA

Total tons: 23 million

The Port of Seattle was founded in 1911 and stands today as one of the largest container terminals on the West Coast. It has also grown to the largest “Left Coast” cruise port in terms of passenger numbers, with more than 200 annual departures to Alaska. 

30. Pittsburgh, PA

Total tons: 21.8 million

Encompassing 200 miles of commercially navigable waterways in southwestern Pennsylvania, the Port of Pittsburgh is made up of 203 terminals. It is a hugely important transit hub for coal, which makes up around 70% of all cargo passing through in terms of weight. 

31. Tacoma, WA

Total tons: 21.5 million

The Port of Tacoma generates $3 billion of economic activity annually and supports more than 40,000 jobs. As partners in the Northwest Seaport Alliance Tacoma and the Port of Seattle (No. 29) are together the fourth-largest container gateway in the country.

32. Portland, OR

Total tons: 19.4 million

Let’s just keep it in the Pacific Northwest, shall we? As Oregon’s largest port, the Port of Portland is a bustling hub comprising three airports, four marine terminals and five business parks. Grain, minerals, forest products and automobiles and the most common types of cargo passing in and out.

33. Oakland, CA

Total tons: 19.3 million

This Northern California port is located on the Oakland seafront and is equipped with an array of commercial buildings and industrial parks, as well as an airport. The port spans 1,300 acres and was founded in 1927.

34. Paulsboro, NJ

Total tons: 18.4 million

Situated on the Delaware River, the Port of Paulsboro is around 80 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its transfer of key commodities such as crude oil, petroleum products and asphalt. 

35. Jacksonville, FL

Total tons: 17.7 million

JAXPORT is Florida’s largest container port and one of the nation’s most prominent vehicle handling sites. It offers services to 140 ports in more than 70 countries and has many ties with trucking firms and rail links, including 40 daily trains via Class 1 railroads CSX and NS. 

36. Kalama, WA

Total tons: 17 million

Just 30 minutes north of Portland, the Port of Kalama is home to more than 30 companies and 1,000 people. It prides itself on being a business-friendly haven, with no state corporate or personal income taxes levied. 

37. Two Harbors, MN

Total tons: 16.9 million

Two Harbors is a port city in Minnesota. Although its port is relatively small, it transfers nearly 17 million tons of cargo on an annual basis. 

38. Marcus Hook, PA

Total tons: 16.7 million

The Port of Marcus Hook is located on the northwest bank of the Delaware River, where its main activities are receiving and refining crude oil, and the shipping of petroleum products.  

39. Philadelphia, PA

Total tons: 16.3 million

The Port of Philadelphia claims to be the fastest growing port in the United States. It handles trade worth $30.5 billion a year and stands as the largest refrigerated port in the country, helping it to generate more than 54,000 jobs.

40. Boston, MA

Total tons: 16 million

The Port of Boston is a major seaport located in Boston Harbor and adjacent to the City of Boston. It is the largest port in Massachusetts and has facilities dedicated to bulk cargo, petroleum, and LNG shipment and storage.

41. Honolulu, HI

Total tons: 14.3 million

In Hawaii, Honolulu Harbor serves as the state’s principle seaport and handles containers, dry and liquid bulk and breakbulk cargo. It also handles passenger and fishing vessels, with a foreign trade zone established at the Fort Armstrong Terminal.

42. Detroit, MI

Total tons: 13.3 million

The Port of Detroit is situated along the west bank of the Detroit River and is the largest seaport in the state of Michigan. Its 29 terminals process high-grade steel products, coal, iron ore, cement, aggregate and other road building commodities. 

43. Indiana Harbor, IN

Total tons: 12.2 million

The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is based in the largest steel-producing region in North America and is home to 30 businesses, half of which are connected to the industry. The site spans almost 600 acres of land.

44. Mid-America Port Commission

Total tons: 12 million

The Mid-America Port Commission is the largest port district on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, serving 26 counties across three states. It transcends two major rivers and is flanked by three Class 1 railroads and four regional airports. 

45. Cleveland, OH

Total tons: 11.9 million

Billed as the premier port of the Great Lakes, the Port of Cleveland supports 20,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in annual economic activity in the region. Half of U.S. households and manufacturing plants are within an eight-hour drive. 

46. Vancouver, WA

Total tons: 11 million

The Port of Vancouver USA was established in 1912 and serves as a vital gateway for connecting Asia and South America to the U.S. midcontinent and Canada. The Washington state port has more than 50 industrial tenants, including companies specializing in wheat, mineral and liquid bulks, vehicles, and other cargos.  

47. Galveston, TX

Total tons: 11 million

Another entry from Texas, the Port of Galveston offers cruise, cargo and commercial facilities. It is one of the older Texan ports, beginning as a trading post in 1825 and since growing to more than 850 acres in size. 

48. San Juan, PR

Total tons: 10.4 million

Serving the capital of U.S. territory Puerto Rico, the Port of San Juan is comprised of 16 piers, of which half are used for passenger ships and half for cargo vessels. Its cargo facilities allow for more than 500,000 square feet of space for unloading and loading of goods. 

49. Chicago, IL

Total tons: 10 million

Commercial activities in Chicago date back to 18th century fur trading, with the modern history of the Port of Chicago beginning in 1921, when the state legislature approved the development of a deep-water port. Today, it operates as a key Great Lakes multimodal transit facility. 

50. Longview, WA

Total tons: 9.7 million

The Port of Longview has been operating since 1921, and today is home to eight marine terminals and industrial facilities spanning 835 acres along the banks of the Columbia River. Fertilizers, grain, heavy-lift cargo, logs, lumber, minerals, paper, pulp and steel are some of the main cargo categories passing through here.  

port tampa bay

BIG SHIP READY: COSCO Shipping is Among Container Lines that Call Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay has emerged as Florida’s preferred new supply chain solution for containerized cargo. The incorporation of direct Asia container services and new connections to Mexico and Central America have significantly enhanced the port’s role in serving the state’s largest and fastest-growing market—the Tampa Bay/Orlando 1-4 Corridor, Florida’s distribution hub. 

The Central Florida region has boomed into one of the hottest industrial real estate markets in the country, becoming the state’s hub for distribution, logistics and manufacturing. As the “front door to the I-4,” Port Tampa Bay is well situated to help businesses capitalize on the growth of the region, which is driving demand for retail, e-commerce, food & beverage, energy products and construction & building materials. 

New tenant Celadon will soon break ground on a paper fiber manufacturing plant that aims to generate up to 80,000 TEUs/year for export to Asia. The port recently expanded terminal capacity with additional paved storage and extended berths to keep pace with continued growth. Part of the expansion includes additional cranes and equipment, and new trans-load warehouse facilities.

The Port recently welcomed CMA CGM, COSCO, Evergreen, OOCL, Maersk and Sealand to their family of container lines offering an array of new services, joining established carrier partners ZIM, MSC and Seatrade. 

Expanded connections serving trade with Mexico offer more efficient supply chain solutions versus the traditional costly and congested overland routes. Work Cat recently began offering a weekly Brownsville Texas-Port Tampa Bay container-on-barge services using 53-foot containers, which is especially attractive for customers used to receiving deliveries by truck from Monterrey and Northern Mexico. ZIM recently launched a weekly Altamira-Port Tampa Bay service, the Mexico Tampa Shuttle, with Kuehne and Nagel as partners on the new service, promoted as the Blue Marlin Express. Seatrade’s SeacatLine also increased the frequency of its Costa Rica service to weekly.

Importers and exporters in Florida’s distribution hub now enjoy significant savings as truckers make as many as three to four roundtrip deliveries per day from Port Tampa Bay to their distribution centers. Partners such as container terminal operator Ports America and cold storage specialist Port Logistics Refrigerated Services have made it possible for Port Tampa Bay to expand infrastructure and capacity to ensure it is well-positioned for continued growth.

port of baltimore bridge global trade virginia


The Port of Baltimore continues expansion efforts following the completion of successful dredging operations for a second 50-foot-deep container berth at its Seagirt Marine Terminal on April 20. 

This project—supported by a partnership between the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and Ports America Chesapeake—started in January and will allow the simultaneous handling of two ultra-large ships. 

The 50-foot berth paired with the Howard Street Terminal expansion project will not only increase business opportunities but also grow the region’s workforce, adding more value to the $122.1 million investment. Of this amount, $105 million is from Ports America, $10.5 million from the state, and $6.6 million in federal funding.

The second, deep-container berth project was spearheaded and completed by Corman Kokosing of Annapolis Junction with the help of two dredges—Koko V and Koko VI. Additionally, more than 465,000 cubic yards of sediment were successfully removed by the company’s SN3 unloader barge for reuse in land restoration and more. With this new addition, the port announced the addition of four neo-Panamax cranes to arrive and be operational later this year at Seagirt.

“The Port of Baltimore and its skilled workforce have always played a key role in supporting Maryland’s economy and keeping the state’s supply chain open and reliable,” MDOT Secretary Greg Slater said. “Now, together with our public and private partners, we’re seeing the future of the port take shape. Additional berth capacity and the ability to move cargo on double-stacked rail cars with the Howard Street Tunnel expansion will attract new and expanded business to the port, boost revenue, grow jobs and lead the way in Maryland’s economic recovery.”

The expansion of the region’s Howard Street Terminal aims to improve capacity along the East Coast’s rail lines from Baltimore, pending the final approval by the National Environmental Policy Act. Construction at the 126-year-old terminal is projected to begin at the end of 2021 and is supported by public-private investments between the federal government, Maryland, CSX and others. These developments continue supporting the region’s workforce while increasing state tax revenue and funds for the Transportation Trust Fund.

“We’re moving forward in the Port of Baltimore,” said MDOT MPA Executive Director William P. Doyle. “We appreciate the on-time and on-budget dredging work completed by Maryland-based Corman Kokosing, a great U.S.-flag dredging and marine construction operator. This summer, we’ll welcome four new neo-Panamax cranes and later this year, we’ll break ground on the Howard Street Tunnel project, giving the port and CSX double-stack capability north, south and all the way out to Chicago. These are very exciting times for the Port of Baltimore.”

ocean freight


Bots are everywhere these days. They play poker against you and help you order a pizza. They assist in getting you hotel reservations and chat with you when you contact customer service to find out why your pizza had extra onions instead of extra cheese. And now, thanks to Cork, Ireland-based Keelvar, they can all but take over a company’s ocean and air freight procurement.

There’s no question air cargo really needs help right now, given the volatility in the market. Capacity is down, way down—nearly 40 percent from China in mid-February, 20 percent over the last year as a whole. Ocean capacity has also dropped. Meanwhile, demand has been rising, due to the pandemic. Optimizing sourcing at a time when rates, transit times and carriers are changing so rapidly is challenging for even the largest firms. 

For Keelvar, there are few better times to unleash their bots.

“We’ve been helping shippers to find ways to bring the product to market faster,” says Keelvar CEO Alan Holland. “It’s automated—that’s what’s different about what we’re doing. A bot can go to work as soon as someone wants to move something, say, from Montevideo to New York. It’s always available. That’s the biggest competitive advantage.”

The bots that Keelvar and many other companies make these days are simply software that automates specialized tasks. Keelvar calls the artificial intelligence (AI) bots it makes Sourcing Automation, which it defined in a June 2018 white paper as “a new category of software that leverages intelligent systems to automate complex human reasoning that exceeds expert standards.” 

Holland likens his bots to those that entered the world of online poker a few years ago. The earliest poker bots could play the game well, but couldn’t best professional players. But as the software evolved, the AI learned how to play better. Today, even the best poker champions in the world can’t beat the latest generation of poker bots. Holland’s goal, which he articulated in the white paper, is creating software that performs sourcing work for companies better than the experts in the field.

“The sobering fact is that AI is defeating the best human experts in most tasks where the boundaries and constraints on decision making are well-defined closed systems,” states the Keelvar white paper. “It would be a mistake to assume that AI won’t be competitive in the task of strategic sourcing and then ultimately overtake humans in this role. Once the boundaries of decision making are communicated, then the game-theoretic reasoning for optimizing the mechanism for sourcing goods and services becomes just another complex but the tractable calculation for Artificial Intelligence.”

In other words, Keelvar says their bots can automate all bidder communications in sourcing: opening, feedback generation, data cleansing, closing, termination-criteria monitoring, and activation. They basically run a company’s sourcing events, though logistics officials are always free to override the bot’s preferred course of action. Sourcing events can be complex and require the labor of many employees, some with years or decades in the procurement field, but Keelvar’s sourcing automation can basically handle it all.

“This process is tedious to execute manually and the more bidders there are, the more onerous the tasks above become and also the more likely that short-cuts are taken, and mistakes are made,” states Keelvar’s white paper. “Furthermore, the slow pace in manual events leads to curtailment of the rounds of bidding and inevitable lost savings opportunities due to the frictional effect of manual operations.”

What’s more, Keelvar’s ocean freight bots can even account for the pollution emissions of cargo vessels when conducting sourcing events (a feature that will eventually be available on the company’s air cargo bots). “Humans can’t get to that level of detail to do emission-sustainable options,” Holland said.

While the ocean freight bot has been around a year or so, the air freight bot only became available in January. Keelvar says the bot can automate 90 percent of a company’s tactical sourcing processes.

“It’s a natural evolution from our first bot, the ocean freight bot,” Holland said. “There’s a finite set of airport codes, but different logic around recommendations in air freight. Bid sheets are different, and cargo tends to be weight-based, rather than container-based, which is how ocean freight works.”

For Felix Plapperer, a venture capital investor and CEO of Paua Ventures, Keelvar’s sourcing bots will “dominate” the procurement market. Not merely because the bots are inherently more efficient than manual labor, but also because they learn the sourcing job better every time they operate. 

“When a tender/auction is conducted by a bot, the number of actions is between eight and 20, depending on the complexity,” Plapperer wrote in a June 4, 2020, post on Medium on why he invested in Keelvar. “If each bot action costs less than $1, then the cost per event is roughly one or two orders of magnitude (yes, that is 10x to 100x times) cheaper than for an event operated by manual labor. Now, these cost savings only capture the value driven by process automation. As ‘mini-tenders’ are not run by sourcing experts, little to no optimization takes place (in fact, often personal relationships drive the outcome). Sourcing bots, in contrast, analytically optimize each and every event based on business priorities. Thus, they create additional value in reduced spend—every time they are at work.”

Of course, the bots aren’t replacements for a company’s procurement teams, but were designed to work alongside them. Major companies such as BMW, Novartis, Siemens and Coca Cola are already using Keelvar’s bots for their procurement.

Another of Keelvar’s recent customers, McKesson Corp., is an Irving, Texas-based healthcare and pharmaceutical company founded back in 1883. According to Keelvar’s marketing materials, McKesson was on track to save 6 percent of its global freight budget prior to the pandemic, and had already saved 6 percent the year prior, through the use of sourcing optimization products from Keelvar.

“Excel is nice, but it’s not where we need to be,” said Tad Strong, McKesson’s Vice President of Global Operations during a March 2021 webinar hosted by Procurement Leaders. “And over the next few years, we’ve some pretty big plans on making that shift into a more automated, more robust system.” 

So, what does the future hold? Holland wouldn’t comment on whether his company is developing a bot to handle ground freight logistics (though that would be a logical step for the company), but he did say the next generation of artificial intelligence bots are just on the horizon.

“This is all level four automation, but level five automation systems in the future will have more autonomy,” said Holland. “We want the bot to autonomously decide on new carriers. There’s a lot of strategy on negotiating rates. You learn by experience which strategies are best. In level five, the bot learns new strategies.”

Holland said the first of examples of his level five AI bots in ocean freight should appear in the fourth quarter of this year. 

intermodal transport


In today’s hyper-globalized world, the ease at which goods are moved from A to B in many ways defines how we live and work. 

If you were to take a straw poll of your household or office, the chances of somebody not wearing, carrying or using an item made from components that were produced or assembled hundreds if not thousands of miles away is almost zero. The ease at which we can acquire everything, from food and clothing to tech gadgets and furniture is, largely, taken for granted. 

However, without the non-stop functioning of transportation networks at the local, national and international level, none of this would be possible. And the way in which these networks operate continues to evolve in sophistication, both in terms of routing efficiency, technology leveraged and coordination between players on land, at sea and in the air. 

Indeed, the latter refers to the concept of intermodal transportation. 

In the simplest of terms, intermodal transportation is the use of two or more modes, or carriers, to transport goods from shipper to consignee, without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. 

A TEU container, for example, could conceivably leave a Chinese factory on a haulage truck to a nearby rail depot, travel by freight train to the nearest seaport, be ferried by container vessel to the U.S. coast, transferred onto a railway line and moved to another depot, before being unloaded onto a truck and driven to its final destination–all without a single hand touching the goods inside. 

Despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the value of such activity is estimated to have hit $25 billion in 2020. As the world’s economy starts to recover, the global intermodal freight transportation industry is forecast to grow at around 15 percent year-on-year between now and 2027, when it is set to be worth $67 billion. 

North America holds a significant share of the global market. The U.S. alone is expected to register at around $6.8 billion for 2020, a figure which should steadily rise given how increasingly dependent intermodal transport activity is on the consumer economy’s demand. 

The region’s rail industry is concentrating on creating new intermodal services that can successfully rival over the road options. 

For instance, in August 2019, Canadian National Railway (CN) and CSX Transportation announced a new intermodal service offering between CN’s greater Montreal and Southern Ontario areas, and the CSX-served ports of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the New York City metropolitan area. 

This intermodal offering is expected to convert long-haul trucks to interline various rail services. Trains will be able to run directly into the center of Toronto and Montreal’s urban markets via CN intermodal yards, making this partnership a natural opportunity for both railroads. 

Meanwhile, there are signs that intermodal activity in the U.S. is bouncing back from the initial COVID-19 slump. 

According to the Association of American Railroads, during the first week of August 2020, 277,054 intermodal shipments were made by U.S. railways, the highest level seen since December 2019 and 30 percent up on the 2020 low in April. 

Around the States: 5 key Intermodal Transit Hubs

The signs are indeed healthy, and many cities and regions across the U.S. are ready to help the country bounce back by increasing throughput of goods once more. 

Critical intermodal transport conduits exist all over the States, from east to west and north to south–without them, supply chains would be far costlier and more difficult to operate seamlessly. Here, we take a look at just five key nodes which provide leading intermodal infrastructure, starting in the Midwest. 


For well over a century, Chicago has acted as a key artery in America’s commercial transport network. Around a quarter of all rail freight calls into the city, either as a final destination or stop on a journey elsewhere, while O’Hare International Airport processes around 2 million metric tons of cargo at a value of approximately $200 billion every year. 

Illinois is also extremely well served by what is North America’s largest inland port in the form of CentrePoint Intermodal Center. Located in the Joliet and Elwood area, around 40 miles southwest of Chicago, it is a 6,400-acre master-planned intermodal development that sees 3 million TEUs pass through it every year. 

It includes a 785-acre Union Pacific Railroad complex just south of Joliet and a 770-acre BNSF railway complex farther to the southwest. Furthermore, it is built with heavyweight roads able to withstand massive pressure and contains a number of other useful features such as water and utility systems, public bus service connections, no restrictions on trailer parking ratios and 24/7 on-site fire and police protection. 

The site constitutes something of an intermodal fortress, and it is currently home to more than 30 tenant companies who between them occupy more than 14 million square feet of space.


Dallas strategically sits at a crossroads of numerous railroad lines, four major interstate roads and one of the world’s busiest airports, making it among the country’s most important intermodal transport hubs. 

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is a 9,000-square-mile urban center located near the geographic heart of the United States and equally accessible to the East and West coasts. Its location means that around 80 markets can be reached overnight either by road or rail, with major regional business heartlands such as New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Mexico City all within easy reach, an advantage that few other intermodal nodes can offer. 

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport considers itself “the nexus of Latin America-Asia transit freight,” and for good reason. In 2019, it saw almost 985,000 tons of international and domestic cargo move through its site and, despite the impact of COVID-19, still recorded more than 870,000 tons of goods in 2020, a drop of around 11.5 percent.

Another important facility is the Wylie Intermodal Terminal. A fairly recent addition to Dallas’ intermodal transport infrastructure (opening in 2015), it is a $64 million development owned by Kansas City Southern Railway (KCS), and it is set to capitalize on significant opportunities in cross-border activity with Mexico. 

Wylie is a city and northeastern suburb of Dallas, with the KCS terminal spanning 500 acres and servicing 12 gulf ports and one Pacific Ocean port, as well as more than 140 transload centers and 11 intermodal ramps. KCS also provides 181 interchange points with other railroads, including all U.S. and Mexico class 1 railroads.


Norfolk, Virginia, is home to a vibrant intermodal transport scene thanks to its ability to serve rail, sea and air freight seamlessly. It is built on a formidable maritime history, centered around the enormous naval base on the Chesapeake Bay, a tradition that has very much expanded into the sea freight domain. 

The Port of Virginia, which is situated around two and half hours from the open sea, handled 2,327 vessel calls and departures in 2019, equating to around 3 million TEUs and 55 million tons of cargo worth almost $75 billion. Thanks to the port’s two on-dock class 1 railroads, more than a third of the cargo managed here arrives or departs by rail–this is a higher proportion than any port on the East Coast. 

Logistics firms using Norfolk can also rely on its international airport. It is one of the most efficient cargo operations in Virginia and moves around 30,000 tons of air cargo every year, with the likes of FedEx, Mountain Air and UPS all regular customers. 


Around 2,700 miles due west of Norfolk, you will find Los Angeles, arguably the West Coast’s most important intermodal transport hub. 

Its beating heart is undoubtedly the Port of Los Angeles, a massive seaport covering 7,500 acres of land and water along 43 miles of waterfront that brands itself as America’s Port. Indeed, it is the nation’s No. 1 container port and prides itself on providing a global model for sustainability, security and social responsibility. 

Founded in 1907 as a far smaller operation, today it holds 82 ship-to-shore container cranes spread across 15 marinas with 3,376 recreational vessel slips and dry docks, facilities that enabled it to move 9.2 million TEUs in 2020.   

It adjoins the Port of Long Beach, itself one of the busiest seaports in the world. The operation here houses 68 gantry cranes, which between them move around 7.5 million TEUs every year, all valued at close to $200 billion. 

This is not to forget the contribution of Los Angeles International Airport, the world’s fourth busiest, which handled almost 2.5 million tons of cargo in 2018, FedEx alone is responsible for carrying 16 percent of the freight that moves in and out of the site. 


It is also important to consider the significance of intermodal transport infrastructure away from the coast. Memphis, unlike our other four locations, is situated in a landlocked state (Tennessee) and is home to one of the country’s most active intermodal freight systems.  

Its focal point is Memphis International Airport which, thanks to its heavy use by FedEx, is the top U.S. gateway in terms of cargo weight and the second busiest cargo airport in the world. 

FedEx employs more than 11,000 staff at its Memphis hub and has more than 34 million square feet of space under lease on airport property. The company operates around 400 flights daily and handles over 180,000 packages and 245,000 documents per hour.

In striking distance of Memphis International Airport is America’s fifth-largest inland port–the Port of Memphis. It serves more than 150 industries and moves a rich variety of goods, from petroleum and cement to grain and steel, and can connect to sea, rail, road and air via the Mississippi River, five class 1 railroads, major north-south and east-west interstate highways, and the nearby airport. 

Such is its vital role in facilitating economic activity, it claims to carry an annual economic impact of more than $9.2 billion. Indeed, it refers to itself as “the Mid-South’s best kept industrial and economic secret,” even though it has been operational since the 1950s. 

Exploiting the Intermodal Advantages

These are just five examples of cities and regions enabling supply chain and logistics firms to exploit the numerous advantages offered by intermodal transit hubs. 

Economically, they help to minimize truck movements, which reduces fuel consumption, driver costs and the need to invest in road-based vehicles. Lower fuel consumption also results in fewer carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, vital if the country is to drive future development along a sustainable path. 

From an operational perspective, businesses can benefit from more reliable transit times (due to reduced road reliance), elimination of border documentation and hold-ups, reduced impacts from adverse weather and fewer accidents and damage to cargo. Meanwhile, hauliers can benefit from working within their own country and avoid making long trips across borders. 

Intermodal transportation is, above all else, designed to create an even more fluid supply chain from which all commercial enterprises and consumers can benefit. By taking advantage of the numerous modes of transport via critical junctures and hubs along long-distance routes, freight need not rely on a single truck to make it from destination A to destination B. 

Rather, intermodal relies on input from a variety of stakeholders along the way, spreading the wealth generated by commercial and consumer-based purchases more widely than it otherwise would. Hubs such as those seen in Chicago, Dallas, Norfolk, Los Angeles, Memphis, and many others not cited, help to realize this.   

And as the country recovers from the enormous health, social and financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, intermodal transport will no doubt play its part in remobilizing the U.S. economy for the betterment of all American businesses. 

suez canal

Container xChange: Suez Canal Closure Increases the Pressure on Europe’s Ports

The anticipated box crunch at European ports following the closure of the Suez Canal at the end of March has been less severe than expected, according to Container xChange.

However, Europe’s leading box hubs are still receiving far more boxes than are departing.

The average CAx reading of incoming 20-foot dry-containers across three of Europe’s biggest ports – Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg – climbed just 3% in week 17 compared to the week before.

At Rotterdam, the increase in incoming 20 ft. dry containers was most stark, with box numbers rising +3.75% week-on-week. At Antwerp, the week-on-week increase was +3.5%, while at Hamburg it was +2.2%.

At all three ports, incoming box traffic has been heavy since March. In Container xChange’s Container Availability Index (CAx) an index reading of below 0.5 means more containers leave a port compared to the number which enter. Above 0.5 means more containers are entering the port.

Chart: Container Availability Index for 20 ft. Dry-Containers at the ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam, Felixstowe, and Hamburg in 2021. For more info, click here.

Hamburg has recorded a CAx reading of above 0.8 since week 9 of this year. In week 17 its CAx reading was 0.93, up from 0.48 in week 1. Rotterdam’s CAx reading has also risen steadily in 2021, climbing from 0.65 in week 1 to 0.74 in week 9 and up to 0.83 in week 17.

Antwerp, meanwhile, recorded a CAx of 0.38 at the start of the year, 0.78 in week 9 and 0.9 in week 17.

In contrast, the situation at heavily-congested Felixstowe has been dire all year. The hub’s lowest CAx this year was 0.87 in week 3. In week 17 it recorded a CAx of 0.95, up from 0.94 in week 16.

Dr. Johannes Schlingmeier, CEO & Founder of Container xChange, the world’s leading container leasing and trading platform, commented:

“Europe’s top container terminals have been struggling to keep congestion at bay, with incoming boxes outweighing outgoing boxes for much of 2021. The closure of the Suez Canal appears to have only made the box crunch at Europe’s hubs only slightly worse than it already was.

“What we’re hearing from our container leasing and trading members is that they find it increasingly difficult to book export containers with the carriers across Europe. It seems shipping lines are prioritizing empty containers in order to move the boxes back to China as fast as possible.”


About the Container Availability Index:

The Container Availability Index tracks millions of monthly container moves to monitor and forecast the global container equipment supply. An index of 0.5 describes a balanced market, below 0.5 a shortage of containers. For more information and weekly email updates, check out

About Container xChange:

Container xChange is the world’s leading online platform used by 600+ companies to buy, sell and lease shipping containers. Container users and owners use the platform to find containers, work with vetted partners and automate the operational workload. Started by Dr. Johannes Schlingmeier and Christian Roeloffs in 2017, the company has now more than 100+ employees with headquarters in Hamburg, Germany.

container prices


The container shortages that have been adding to logistics logjams in Asia and beyond are showing few signs of being resolved, according to the latest data from Container xChange, the world’s leading online platform for the leasing and trading of shipping containers.

In China, average prices for used twenty-foot containers increased 94% between November 2020 and March 2021. The surge from an average price of $1,299 per box in November last year to $2,521 in March indicates that container scarcity is continuing to worsen.

The latest Container Availability Index (CAx) data also reveals that equipment shortages are also now driving up container prices at major Indian ports. Between June 2020 and March 2021, the average used 20 ft. container prices across the ports of Chennai, Mundra and Nhava Sheva rose from $1,106 to $1,755, an increase of 58%.

Dr. Johannes Schlingmeier, CEO & Founder of the container leasing and trading platform Container xChange, commented: “The relentless pace of container shipping trade since the summer of 2020 is not easing and this is reflected in equipment shortages in Asia, and elsewhere. We expect markets will tighten even further in the coming weeks as the ripple effect of the Suez Canal closure at the end of March further disrupts container shipping services and equipment availability.”

Shanghai prices fall

Across the eight biggest ports in China, average prices for used 20 ft. containers climbed 38% from $1,251 in November 2020 to $1,733 in March 2021.

There are indications that equipment is being funneled to China’s largest container hubs. At the port of Shanghai, the world’s largest box port by volume, the average used container price in January this year was $2,162 marking it as the most expensive port in China to procure a used box. By March, however, the average price of a used 20 ft. container at Shanghai had fallen to $1,686.

The port of Dalian is now the most expensive location in China to purchase a used 20 ft. container with prices in March averaging $2028. Equivalent prices at Qingdao and Tianjin were $1,850 and $1,800, respectively.

In India, Chennai was by far the most expensive port to buy used containers in March 2021 with an average price of $2,220 per 20 ft container. Average prices in March at Nhava Sheva were $1,667 per 20 ft container. Mundra was the cheapest location in India to procure a used box with an average price of $1,455.

New vs. used container prices

Such is the urgent demand for boxes in the current highly stressed ocean container market that the cost of procuring a used container has now increased far beyond what was previously considered a ‘normal’ price for a newbuild container.

“It always depends on the exact equipment type, but before shortages became critical a standard used container which was a few years old would cost around $1,000 in China, while a brand-new container would be about double the price,” said Schlingmeier.

“However, in the current market, used containers are selling at $2,300-$2,600 across China, while prices for brand-new containers at Shanghai, for example, have skyrocketed by 64% in 2021 to an average of $3,390.”


About the Container Availability Index: 

The Container Availability Index tracks millions of monthly container moves to monitor and forecast the global container equipment supply. An index of 0.5 describes a balanced market, below 0.5 a shortage of containers. For more information and weekly email updates, check out

About Container xChange: 

Container xChange is the world’s leading online platform used by 600+ companies to buy, sell and lease shipping containers. Container users and owners use the platform to find containers, work with vetted partners and automate the operational workload. Started by Dr. Johannes Schlingmeier and Christian Roeloffs in 2017, the company has now more than 100+ employees with headquarters in Hamburg, Germany.


Despite Shortage, Containers Rotting in Depots?

Container availability across China is still at a record low, while US ports are overwhelmed by a surge of shipping containers from Asia, full of products retailers are eager to get on shelves for the holidays.

Due to the fastest increase in demand after months full of blank sailings, container availability for 40HCs is only at 0.05 CAx points compared to 0.63 at the same time last year, according to the Container Availability Index. 

Although the US East Coast is usually a surplus location of equipment (last year’s CAx value for 40DC was 0.7), the container availability dropped to 0.43 indicating actually fewer containers than needed. 

Containers spend 45 days on average in depot 

The average and median time of containers (in days) between “empty in depot” and “empty dispatched” | Source: Research Project FraunhoferCML & Container xChange

Although containers are very much in need, they still spend on average 45 days empty at depots according to a research project by FraunhoferCML and Container xChange.

Especially in regions with low container availability such as China and the US, the average is comparably high with 61 and 66 days compared to the global average of 45 days.

The high standard deviation of 85 days in North America and 129 days across Asia indicates many cases where containers spend far more days inside depots than the average suggests. 

Compared to the Middle East (21 days on average) and Europe (23 days on average) it takes more than 30 extra days to move containers out of the depots and make money with them.