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The World Trade Center St. Louis recently hosted a webinar discussing the ongoing national supply chain crisis and the role the St. Louis region can play in helping to alleviate it for businesses and consumers. The event featured a panel of experts discussing the global challenges being faced and how routing it through the bi-State St. Louis region can be part of the solution.

Mary Lamie, Executive Vice President of Multi Modal Enterprises for Bi-State Development, and head of the St. Louis Regional Freightway said that companies are looking for a location that is both multimodal and globally accessible, both of which are qualities the St. Louis region possesses. With the most efficient inland port in the nation and six Class I railroads, the St. Louis region offers access to all four quadrants of the United States, making St. Louis an ideal location for customers who need to quickly move during supply chain disruptions. The Mississippi River to the gulf coast supply chain also provides access to a wide array of international customers in places such as Europe, Africa, and South America.

Executive Director of America’s Central Port Dennis Wilmsmeyer called attention to the proposed merger between Canadian Pacific Railway and Kansas City Southern that would put the region on par with Chicago in terms of rail connectivity. He also cited the additional advantages the region offers with its central location putting shippers just a two-day truck drive from 70% of the U.S. population, and advances with Container-on-Barge and proposed Container-on-Vessel services make shipping on the inland waterways even more competitive.

Wilmsmeyer spoke about how the supply chain problem began. At the start of the pandemic, China was the first to shut down factories and slow production at a time when the rest of the world also shut down. This led to a sudden surge in demand for things like home improvement goods and electronic computer products as people transitioned to working from home, but the supply of product coming out of major global trade hubs like China suddenly came to a grinding halt. This initiated what is an ongoing supply chain problem. “You add to that the sheer backlog of things … going to the Chinese ports, stacking up there, then getting loaded on ships and coming to California for shipment across the United States and then the backlog there… It is an entire movement, slowly, [like] a watermelon moves through a snake, that backlog slowly moves through the system,” said Wilmsmeyer. He added that what we are seeing now – and have experienced over the past year, especially on the West Coast – is that this whole movement has further been slowed by a shortage of workers, from truck drivers, and rail workers to dock hands.

The St. Louis region is positioned to be part of the solution to this crisis, particularly pertaining to congestion at West Coast ports. “The St. Louis region is a reliever for other regions, such as Chicago,” said Lamie. “Our port system can serve as an alternative for others during national and global supply chain disruptions.” She also called attention to the ongoing infrastructure expansion projects that are helping to ensure the region can continue to have the capacity to  serve as a reliever.

Panelist Robert Shapiro, a partner with Thompson Coburn explained that there may also be certain options available to importers to speed up the shipping process by changing where they choose to clear customs, and that there is a cost-versus-timeliness tradeoff to be considered.

“There’s an option when you’re importing goods to either clear them through customs at the first port of arrival, or you can clear customs at the port of destination. So, let’s say you’re shipping a container from Los Angeles, CA (LA) to St. Louis, MO. You could make entry in LA, or you could conduct the customs formalities in St. Louis. There’s some extra costs to push that clearance route out to St. Louis because you have basically two entries that you would be filing, but it does facilitate moving the goods off of the pier more quickly,” Shapiro said. “Customs wouldn’t be examining containers in Los Angeles, which slows things down – if an examination is going to occur, it would happen in St. Louis.”

Shapiro added that, while there’s been much talk of the government stepping in to require changes at the West Coast ports to ease the congestion, there are limits to the role the government can play in helping alleviate this crisis, and the processes involved means that change is often implemented too slowly.

“I’m an optimist. I think we are already beginning to see some relief, and I think we will be through this crisis by middle of 2022 or into the third quarter. But it takes time to redo things,” Shapiro said. “I also think that some of it depends on the progress of the pandemic. We were with Delta now we’re dealing with Omicron. It is possible that the next variant will delay progress.”

To learn more about the World Trade Center St. Louis and the initiatives they’re involved in, visit


About World Trade Center St. Louis

For more than 25 years, as the international division of St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, WTC has supported growth for the region’s businesses, most importantly, ensuring St. Louis companies are represented in an increasingly global marketplace. From customized research to trade training, hosting inbound/outbound delegations and managing St. Louis’ Foreign Trade Zone, WTC brings together a strong system of business and government agencies to support trade and investment and enhance St. Louis’ global connectivity. To learn more, visit



“Accelerating Digitalization: Critical Actions to Strengthen the Resilience of the Maritime Supply Chain,” a report that the World Bank and International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) issued in January, describes how collaborative use of digital technology can help streamline all aspects of maritime transport, from cross-border processes and documentation to communications between ship and shore.

The joint report, with its special focus on ports, argues that a better digital collaboration between private and public entities across the maritime supply chain will result in significant efficiency gains, safer and more resilient supply chains and lower emissions.

“The report’s short and medium-term measures to accelerate digitalization have the proven potential to improve supply chain resilience and efficiency whilst addressing potential risks related to cybersecurity,” says Dr. Patrick Verhoeven, the IAPH managing director of Policy and Strategy. “However, necessary policy reform is also vital. Digitalization is not just a matter of technology but, more importantly, of change management, data collaboration and political commitment.”

How big a deal is big data? According to, the global big data and business analytics market is valued at $215.7 billion this year and will grow by more than 27% to exceed $274 billion by the end of next year.

However, recent IAPH survey revealed that only a third of more than 100 responding ports complied with a mandatory International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirement that all member countries exchange key data electronically. The main barriers to digitalization cited by the ports did not involve the technology but the legal framework within their countries or regions and the inability to persuade multiple private-public stakeholders to collaborate.

Fortunately, as you will learn if you read on, there are governments, port authorities and economic development entities that are embracing big data.

Bottlenecks along the supply chain

Among the key chokepoints in the global maritime system are some of the world’s most critical transport gateways. Consider the significance of just two of them: The Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz. As the U.S. Department of Energy’s website makes quite clear about the importance of the latter, “The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important oil transit chokepoint.”

More than 90% of the world’s total trade volume is moved by the maritime shipping industry. Every year, it transports more than $4 trillion of goods. An immense pressure is placed on shipping companies to remain on schedule, protect the cargo ship and crew, and ensure profitability. And one can’t say that it’s easy.

It is hard to visualize the world’s main shipping routes or to glimpse the industry’s complexity. As they transport goods from one continent to another, approximately 90,000 vessels cross paths.

The maritime industry involves an intricate system of transportation. To complicate things, ports and vessels are also subject to the forces of nature, which are becoming harder and harder to predict. Thus, shipping companies must be able to adapt to changing situations and act fast.

With real-time big data analytics, however, the maritime industry can better navigate these unexpected challenges.

Big data is a field that extracts and analyzes data from data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data-processing application software. Real-time capabilities mean that those insights are delivered immediately after collection.

How exactly does real-time big data help?

Maritime companies generate data from different sources and in several formats. Traditionally, these insights are fixed, siloed and inconsistent. Actioning this information is time-consuming and a major pain point for shipping companies. 

With big data tools, this inflow of data is collated and organized in a cloud-based system. It then analyzes and spits out the relevant data in real-time, which promotes better decision making. Nothing is left to intuition or chance—unlocking opportunities to drive greater efficiencies.

According to the recent World Bank report “Reforming and Rebuilding Lebanon’s Port Sector: Policies and Solutions for Digitalizing the Port of Beirut,” digitalization must be key in the reconstruction and modernization of the facility that was rocked by chemical explosions in August 2020.  

“Rapidly evolving technology is creating the digital ports of the future and Lebanon should not be left out,” maintains Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq regional director. “Through an all stakeholder approach, Lebanon should immediately enact special port institutional framework to reform the port sector and to launch transformation process toward a structured and systematic technological upgrade of the Port of Beirut to support Lebanon’s economic recovery.”

Efficient maritime operations and logistics

Overall operations and logistics become much more efficient with real-time data. Companies can obtain information through GPS and RFID tags to help locate containers and ships immediately. Data technology also helps synchronize communication to manage ship arrivals, berthings, and departures safely and efficiently. And in case of an emergency, non-availability of labor or terminal allocations, real-time data helps ships plan their routes and speeds accordingly.

Due to climate change, this ability to pivot has never been so relevant. Although the global maritime industry is a well-oiled machine, the ocean’s weather—currents, waves and wind—are more unpredictable than ever. Real-time data streamlines decision making and supports ad hoc navigation to ensure companies maximize returns.

After a yearlong trial period, the Greater Houston Port Bureau officially partnered in June with PortXchange Products, a Netherlands-based digital solutions provider for predictable and sustainable shipping. The five-year deal is allowing for the adoption and further development of PortXchange’s collaborative vessel and terminal planning platform.

“Digitization and data are key for the port of Houston region to increase predictability, improve efficiency and remain globally competitive,” says Capt. Bill Diehl, U.S. Coast Guard (retired), president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau. The non-profit trade organization operates the Maritime Exchange of Texas, which maintains critical vessel movement data for the Lone Star State’s deep draft ports.

The agreement came as a result of Diehl’s agency embracing “the idea that digitalization and scheduling transparency is the future of any port,” according to Sjoerd de Jager, PortXchange’s managing director, who adds, “we look forward to extending our collaboration in the Houston port community.”

Big data is helping to identify open berths at the Port of Gothenburg. In September, the largest port in Scandinavia launched Allberth, a smart device developed by Awake.AI of Finland. 

“With Allberth, we now have a berth planning tool that can make calls smarter, safer and considerably more efficient for all concerned,” says Fredrik Rauer, traffic coordinator and project leader for Berth Planner at the Gothenburg Port Authority. “And reduced emissions from the vessels are an obvious benefit in climate terms.”

External users, who are gradually being added to the system, can make their own planning decisions based on the same data. “With Allberth,” Rauer says, “we can give mooring personnel, the ship’s agent and the terminal the opportunity to act immediately on the information that we visualize in the application.” 

Fuel-efficient routing

By having access to real-time sea state observations—currents, waves and swell—vessel operators can re-route according to current ocean and weather conditions while optimizing fuel efficiency. Inefficient weather routing oftentimes leads to the increased time spent at sea, which not only disrupts and delays the supply chain but can also increase fuel burn and CO2 emissions. 

In addition to increasing voyage earnings, fuel-efficient routing also reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, supporting the latest GHG reduction strategy that the IMO developed in 2018. The initial strategy envisages that the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping should be reduced by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008. What does 50% look like? The IMO calculated that vessels released 1.12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the year before, in 2007. Emissions need to be reduced by 560 million metric tons. That’s equivalent to the emissions from 102 million cars.

One key conclusion to make about the real-world is that real-time data helps to reduce fuel costs and also helps to reduce GHG emissions.

The Port Authority of New South Wales in Australia is maneuvering very large ships safer and more efficiently thanks to OMC International’s Dynamic Under Keel Clearance (DUKC) system. The Aussie company’s technology is currently being used at the ports of Botany, Newcastle and Kembla.

The DUKC system provides tanker and deep drafter container captains “with near real-time data, taking account of a number of variables, including the height of tide, the speed of the ship, the ship’s maneuverability, tidal streams and the dynamic motions of the vessel–all essential information used by our highly trained team of marine pilots when maneuvering these vessels within port waters,” says Myron Fernandes, the port authority’s harbor master for Sydney and Botany.

Is real-time big data safe from cyber-threats? 

The convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) onboard ships—and their connection to the internet—creates an increased attack surface that requires greater cyber risk management.

On the IT side, the chances of cyberattacks can be mitigated through proper implementation of encryption techniques such as blockchain technology. From an operational standpoint, IMO maintains that effective cyber risk management should start at the senior management level—embedding a culture of cyber risk awareness into all levels and departments of an organization. 

One can read more about this in “Guidelines on Cybersecurity Onboard Ships” from BIMCO, a non-governmental organization that aims to be at the forefront of global developments in shipping. With offices in Copenhagen, Singapore, Shanghai, Athens and London, BIMCO provides expert knowledge and practical advice to members that range from small local port agents and law firms to the largest shipowners in the world.

Knowledge is power

It is possible that the maritime industry can become bigger and better—and more lucrative—while emitting less GHG emissions. By implementing real-time insights in daily operations, shipping companies are well-positioned to navigate anything that comes their way. And how this year has gone, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an edge on the unexpected.  

As the technology evolves, an emerging group of global communications companies are competing with one another to execute on a radical mission statement: to bring connectivity to everyone, everywhere. As these technologists make progress, they enable maritime organizations to connect more efficiently with customers, facilities and systems.

One of those companies, OneWeb, has been busy building a communications network with a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that provide connectivity to people around the world. OneWeb’s method for enabling Internet access for all is starting to become a reality. As a result of OneWeb’s new capacities in space, the company is getting ready to provide low-cost solutions for broadband, government and cellular backhaul. Its high speed, low latency, network will offer new affordable mobility solutions to industries that rely on global connectivity, including ports and the maritime companies that depend upon ports.

OneWeb, which is headquartered in London and has a manufacturing facility in Merritt Island, Florida, successfully commenced launches for its satellite constellation network back in February 2019. As of May of this year, 218 of a planned 648 satellites in the initial constellation had blasted off. 

Closer to Earth, the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board in July approved more than $15 million in grants for planning, economic development and rural broadband infrastructure construction projects, including awards of $1.7 million to the Port of Whitman County and nearly $1.6 million to the Port of Clarkston in Asotin County for high-speed internet connections. The Olympia-based board’s grants and more than $2.5 million in loans will be matched by over $7.6 million in private investment, and the resulting partner projects will create an estimated 200 jobs. 

Big data is a must-have

In today’s world, inland port facilities must view a strong digital infrastructure as “essential” as opposed to “just a value-add,” according to Marc Salotti, managing director at Tradepoint Atlantic in Baltimore, Maryland. The modern, 3,300-acre industrial site used to be known as Sparrows Point, which had been one of the world’s largest iron and steel making facilities for 125 years before closing in 2012.

“Think about the target user,” Salotti recently wrote on the Supply Chain Brain forum. “With increasing pressure on global supply chains, the rise of e-commerce, and growth of direct-to-consumer methods, companies aren’t just looking for a storage facility. They want an adaptable environment that maximizes supply-chain optionality and growth, a strong technical infrastructure, and a strategic partner to work through challenges and share innovative solutions.”

Saudi Global Ports (SGP) is incorporating smart port design to two container terminals at King Abdulaziz Port Dammam. The program includes establishing an area called “The Sandbox” to test new technologies in automation and connectivity and develop new processes that will be subsequently deployed across SGP.

“We are taking progressive steps toward transforming Dammam into a leading international container port equipped with digital and smart capabilities, and continue to contribute toward Mawani (Saudi Ports Authority) and the Kingdom’s plans for a transformational transport and logistics sector,” says SGP’s CEO Edward Tah.

The future is also now for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which is working with partners to design a collaborative system to manage marine vessel traffic and optimize the supply chain flow by a March 31, 2022, deadline imposed by the Canadian government, which also provided funding for an electronic conveyor system to transport bulk materials at the Port of Saguenay.

Embracing big data cannot come soon enough, according to Salotti: “If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t be complacent. We must evaluate. We must evolve. We must commit to real, systemic change in economic development and infrastructure. Then, we won’t just build a more resilient trade pipeline; we’ll create new jobs and sustain the heart of American industry.”



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 COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on global shipping. One of the categories hit worst was roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro). These ships, which revolutionized the transport of automotive and military vehicles, often found themselves with nowhere to go as automakers shut down their plants in the first half of 2020 to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Figures compiled by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)—and published in its report COVID-19 and Maritime Transport: Impact and Responses—show just how bleak the Ro/Ro sector got, with the ships stopping in five percent fewer ports in the first quarter of 2020 than the same quarter a year earlier, and nearly 25 percent in the second quarter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted on Ro/Ro services,” states the UNCTAD report. “Since March 2020, port calls by Ro/Ro ships worldwide declined by 22.8 percent compared with the same period in 2019. One in four ship calls has been suspended. Total calls by Ro/Ro ships since the beginning of 2020 declined by 13.8 percent as compared with the same period in 2019.”

While those declines were bad, it’s also true that vehicle traffic rebounded in the latter half of the year. We looked at 10 U.S. ports that have Ro/Ro capability to see how bad the situation got before they recovered—and how they did it. All of these ports instituted special COVID-19 protocols at the start of the pandemic, and all have remained operational throughout the crisis.


Port officials say that in the spring of 2020, the closure of so many automakers dramatically lowered the number of automobiles entering Colonel’s Island Terminal. May 2020 saw the worst volume decrease—down 77 percent compared to May 2019.

The rebound started in June, though port officials say Ro/Ro traffic that month was still 38 percent below June 2019. July was better, in that it was only down 11 percent. By August, Ro/Ro traffic was actually up 9 percent, though September was flat. The rest of the year saw Ro/Ro traffic up 32 percent over the previous year; November down 16 percent, and December was 27 percent ahead of the same month in 2019.

For the year, Colonel’s Island terminal served 435 vessel calls in 2020, compared to 466 in 2019. Put another way, in 2020 the Port of Brunswick handled 587,395 units of Ro/Ro cargo, a decrease of 25,506 (4 percent) compared to 2019.


The Port of Baltimore ranks “first among the nation’s ports for volume of autos and light trucks, roll on/roll off heavy farm and construction machinery, and imported gypsum,” according to the Maryland Port Administration. After sustained decreases in Ro/Ro traffic throughout the spring, December totals showed a triple-digit increase—the sixth consecutive month of increased compared to the first months of the pandemic, according to a Feb. 3, 2021, Maryland Port Administration news release. What’s more, December figures for general cargo, containers and Ro/Ro represent year-over-year monthly gains versus December of the previous year.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Port of Baltimore has been a barometer of Maryland’s economic recovery, and the latest figures give us great optimism for the new year,” Governor Larry Hogan said in the news release. “The port’s healthy rebound is an indicator of increased consumer demand, and we’ve proven we have the talented workforce and the infrastructure to answer that demand.”

By December 2020, 67,063 tons of Ro/Ro traffic moved through the Port of Baltimore—up nearly 36 percent from June. In fact, December was so good that Ro/Ro traffic was up 1 percent from the same month in 2019.


In the spring of 2020, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo shut down auto plants in the South due to COVID-19. This cut Ro/Ro traffic into Charleston by a third, according to 

But by August, the numbers started to recover. “Among the encouraging signs that port officials highlighted was the highest July on record for vehicle movement through the port,” according to Aug. 20, 2020, post in The Maritime Executive. “The strength in the Ro/Ro sector they believe signifies a return to normalcy at automotive plants throughout South Carolina and the Southeast.”

Port officials are so encouraged that they see a stronger rebound throughout 2021.

“We are encouraged by some signs of an initial rebound in our container and automotive volumes, as well as an increase in imports and a decline in blanked sailings,” S.C. Ports President and CEO Jim Newsome said in an Aug. 20, 2020, Maritime Executive post. “However, a more substantial recovery is dependent on the duration and intensity of the economic impacts from the pandemic, and ultimately, on a vaccine.”


Like all U.S. ports, JAXPORT saw Ro/Ro traffic hit hard by the coronavirus. But the rebound in the summer and fall was strong. In fact, the last quarter of calendar year 2020 was “the second busiest quarter for vehicles in the port’s history,” according to a Feb. 11, 2021 JAXPORT news release.

Given that it’s one of the nation’s most diversified ports, and that means it’s “well-positioned to continue to see increased volumes to satisfy growing consumer demand in nearby markets throughout the Southeast, including South Florida, Orlando and the rest of the I-4 corridor,” said Alberto Cabrera, JAXPORT’s director of Automotive Accounts.

“An increase in U.S. military vehicle movements at the port helped to offset the industry-wide decline in commercial shipments due to the temporary shutdown of auto manufacturing over the summer caused by the coronavirus,” said Cabrera.

He adds that 2021 should be a “robust year” for emerging vehicle technology. “As manufacturers continue to rebound from the pandemic shutdowns, we will see the release of many new models with the advanced technology, including autonomous driving, steering assistance, and forward collision prevention, that consumers have been demanding,” Cabrera said. 


In late 2019, PhilaPort opened a giant new auto terminal and Vehicle Processing Center (VPC). “The VPC at Southport is capable of servicing 200 cars per hour and fully processing over 1,000 cars daily,” a PhilaPort news release said at the time. A few months later, the pandemic hit. After that, Ro/Ro traffic “was down, but not as much as the other Ro/Ro ports,” a PhilaPort spokesman said.

The port instituted new COVID-19 protocols, including closing the main administration offices in the early months of the pandemic. But by late September, the port reopened the offices. Today, the port is close to operating as usual—though with some adjustments. 

“This port handles almost 1 million tons of forest products in a normal year,” said Penn Warehousing and Distribution’s Tom Mutz in a Feb. 5, 2021, PhilaPort news release. “But COVID and new modes of consumer behavior have resulted in even greater amounts of forest products entering our port.”


Port officials made clear that COVID-19 had very little impact on the operations at the Port of Galveston. That being said, the temporary closure of many auto plants did cause a significant slowdown in Ro/Ro traffic for much of 2020. You can see it in the numbers provided by port officials: The port moved 487,371 vehicles in 2019, but just 314,790 in 2020.

That said, port officials noted that other traffic at the port is strong. In fact, they report that the port saw 25 cargo vessels in January 2021—up considerably from the 19 that arrived in pre-pandemic January 2020. 


For the Port of Hueneme, May and June of 2020 were the worst months of the pandemic for Ro/Ro traffic. During those months, Ro/Ro ship traffic dwindled almost to zero. Recovery finally came in the last quarter of 2020, which saw four to five Ro/Ro ships coming into port every week. 

But the damage had been done. In 2019, Ro/Ro ships moved 346,288 autos in and out of the Port of Hueneme, but just 282,164 in 2020—an 18.5 percent drop in a year. Overall tonnage dropped at the port 1.8 percent due to the pandemic. But so far, officials say Ro/Ro volume is still showing a strong recovery and is now 1 percent higher than the same period last year.

Port officials also say their own internal operations and communications plan worked very well in dealing with COVID-19 cases. In fact, they say the port saw just 19 reported COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in March 2020. Currently, the port is working with local officials to prioritize the vaccinations cycles for their workforce.


For the first half of 2020, the Port of Virginia saw a significant drop in trade—due both to the COVID-19 pandemic and trade tariffs. But port officials are proud that throughout the crisis, the port has not lost a single-day of productivity. Despite the drop in traffic, the port instituted no layoffs or cuts in pay and benefits. Officials also noted that since the port was processing less cargo, efficiencies increased—dwell-time for rail imports, berth productivity and turn-times for motor carriers. The port also used the slow period to accelerate maintenance schedules for equipment and make operational tweaks.

By the end of the year, the Port of Virginia was actually setting records: The port processed more than 260,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in December, making it the best volume on record for that month. The port also set its all-time monthly volume record in November 2020 by handling more than 280,000 TEUs.

Today, Port of Virginia officials describe their Ro/Ro capabilities as “strong.” They expect a rebound in both automobiles and traditional Ro-Ro cargo in 2021, which they say they can accommodate at either their Newport News Marine Terminal or the Portsmouth Marine Terminal.


Long lines of shipping traffic into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are familiar to everyone within five miles of the Southern California coastline. Even in 2020, the traffic was considerable.

“Initially, the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the volume of containers flowing through the port, but the latter half of the year was very active as shippers worked to satisfy pent-up demand for goods,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “The Port of Long Beach had its best year on record in 2020, with 8,113,315 TEUs moved, up 6.3 percent from 2019. The port exceeded the previous annual record set in 2018 by 22,292 TEUs.”

But the same can’t be said for Ro/Ro ships. In fact, Ro/Ro data from the Port of Long Beach shows abysmal numbers: 302,811 vehicles in 2019, but just 239,135 in 2020.

To ensure that 2021 is good for all categories of shipping, Cordero is focusing on protecting his workforce.

“The nation’s waterfront workers have kept this country’s supply chain functioning since Day One of the pandemic, and they are at high risk,” Cordero said. “Prioritizing the waterfront workers for vaccination is of paramount importance, both for their safety, and for the sake of the economy. We are continuing to work with health officials to vaccinate essential workers, to maintain the fluidity of cargo movement.”


The Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA), the operating entity behind the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, is the fourth largest container gateway in the United Sates. And the COVID-19 pandemic hit the NWSA hard across the board.

“Total container volumes in March were down approximately 21 percent as compared to March of 2019,” said John Wolfe, the NWSA CEO, according to an April 15, 2020, story in American Shipper. “That brings our year-to-date first-quarter decline to 15.4 percent.”

The situation at the ports was still bad, even into October.

“The economic fallout from COVID-19 continues to disrupt supply chains across the country and around the world,” stated an Oct 20, 2020, NWSA news release. “The NWSA gateway saw 59 blank sailings through September, surpassing the total number of canceled sailings in 2019.”

As with most ports in the U.S., by the end of the year cargo traffic had rebounded or even exceeded 2019 levels at the NWSA ports—except for auto volume. That stood at 156,205 units, down 18.6 percent from the previous year, according to a Jan. 20, 2021, NWSA news release.

maritime transport world


The world’s reliance on maritime transport makes it more important than ever to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing, and to support ship crew changeovers, the United Nations maritime and trade bodies said in a joint statement published on June 9.

UNCTAD and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) reiterated calls for governments to promote crew well-being by allowing crew changes and ensuring seafarers and other maritime personnel have access to documentation and travel options so they can return home safely.

Maritime transport depends on the 2 million seafarers who operate the world’s merchant ships, which carry more than 80 percent of global trade by volume, including most of the world’s food, energy, raw materials and manufactured goods. Crew changeovers are essential for the continuity of shipping in a safe and sustainable manner, but the process is currently hampered by travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNCTAD and IMO reaffirmed the urgent need for “key worker” designation for seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel and service personnel at ports. Governments and relevant national and local authorities must recognize that these workers provide essential services, regardless of their nationality, and should thus exempt them from travel restrictions when in their jurisdiction, the organizations pleaded.

“Such designation will ensure that the trade in essential goods, including medical supplies and food, is not hampered by the pandemic and the associated containment measures,” read their joint statement. “We emphasize that, for trade to continue during these critical times, there is a need to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing, while at the same time ensuring that border agencies can safely undertake all necessary controls. International collaboration, coordination and solidarity among all is going to be key to overcoming the unprecedented global challenge posed by the pandemic and its longer-term repercussions.”