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

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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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GT Podcast – Episode 115 – Raul Alfonso With Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay: Opportunity Awaits

When considering the right Port to partner with, diversity of services can play an important role. We take a closer look at Port Tampa Bay and why so many container and cruise ships are porting at Tampa Bay! Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Raul Alfonso gives us an inside look at some of the reasons Port Tampa Bay is being called one of the best in the world.


Diversity among seaports is a concept not only understood but exemplified with Port Tampa Bay. Known as Florida’s largest seaport in both acreage and tonnage, with more than 34 million tons of cargo handled annually, Port Tampa Bay demonstrates industry breadth through its cargo diversification, cruise passengers and real estate strategies to keep pace with the central part of the Sunshine State’s blistering growth.

Through its purposeful investment and master planning approach, the management team has made great strides in recent years connecting transportation methods, logistics, warehousing and even manufacturing to support and grow the region’s largest economic engine. As its 2018 fiscal year saw an unprecedented number of major announcements related to growth, Port Tampa Bay is already seeing more growth in fiscal year 2019.

Cargo diversity, real estate and proximity to growth are the major differentiators that have enabled Port Tampa Bay to leverage itself and grow. 

“I found a tremendous convergence of opportunity when I arrived,” said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay’s president and CEO. “I knew I wanted to maintain and expand a diverse portfolio, capitalizing on our land assets and building the infrastructure to serve more customers and Florida’s growth more efficiently.”

As a result, officials understood that Port Tampa Bay’s most valuable position within the market could only be achieved through analyzing industry benchmarks, investing in infrastructure and capitalizing on opportunities by listening to the perspectives of carriers and beneficial cargo owners before implementing strategic initiatives. By gaining a thorough understanding of market conditions on a domestic and international level, Port Tampa Bay has successfully become the largest economic influencer in the Western Florida region, responsible for a more than $17 billion in economic impact while generating more than 85,000 jobs.

Port Tampa Bay’s cargo portfolio includes all major categories, from liquid bulk and dry bulk to containers, automobiles, break-bulk and more. Additionally, the port serves as one of the largest shipbuilding and repair handlers in the Southeast United States. It is also a top 10 cruise homeport, and last year the 1 million mark was surpassed for passengers sailing from Port Tampa Bay.

One of the world’s premier fertilizer export ports continues leading in both the liquid and dry-bulk arenas, thanks to the likes of global exporters Amalie Oil and Mosaic. Through these connections, Port Tampa Bay supports the reach of more than 100 countries and helps to feed the world.

On the break-bulk side, Tampa Tank/Florida Structural Steel helps to anchor several steel fabricators and related businesses, making the port a significant mover in this business segment. Furthermore, the port has developed about 290 acres of land to help continue its efforts handling steel, dry bulk and other commodities. 

Furthering its diversity and strategic master planning approach, the port developed a new on-dock cold storage facility and a dedicated automobile terminal fully equipped to process the anticipated expansion of vehicle production in Mexico and the Southeast.

Looking to the future, Port Tampa Bay has major plans in the works to expand overall capacity and infrastructure from docks and terminals to land tracts and parcels supportive of increased containers and break-bulk cargos. A total of $380 million is projected to support the port’s expansion efforts over the next five years. Through this budgeting and robust development planning, the port projects expanding its container terminal capacity to 160 acres–essentially quadrupling current capacity and attracting new services.

All of this vision, planning and investment has already paid off in a couple of very big ways. COSCO Shipping in December announced Port Tampa Bay’s first direct Asia weekly call service, followed by a second announcement in February by CMA CGM to expand its global container reach. Secondly, in April, Port Tampa Bay completed a major navigational improvement on its Big Bend channel, deepening and widening to accommodate larger ships.

More accomplished was how the project was pulled off: by first assembling a public-private partnership that included five stakeholders and maintaining its cohesiveness for several years. The improved channel can now service the approximately 290 acres of new terminal operations and capacity among port tenants.

Throughout all of Port Tampa Bay’s projects and new business expansion are the common themes of vision, strategic planning, investment and expertise. “That and listening to what our customers need to increase their efficiency and/or speed to market is what it is all about,” Anderson says.

These elements continue to provide Port Tampa Bay with ideas that increase economic impact, import/export efficiencies, and just as importantly, sustainable growth.