PORTS AROUND THE WORLD EXPAND TO ACCOMMODATE BIGGER SHIPS, MORE RAIL AND AN UNQUENCHABLE CONSUMER APPETITE

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PORTS AROUND THE WORLD EXPAND TO ACCOMMODATE BIGGER SHIPS, MORE RAIL AND AN UNQUENCHABLE CONSUMER APPETITE


Moments after leading a press conference to herald the opening of the Long Beach Container Terminal at Middle Harbor on Aug. 20, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero is chatting up a certain magazine editor who asks if the $1.5 billion facility will speed up offloading the convoy of cargo vessels currently anchored off the California coast awaiting berth slots.

“That’s the hope,” says the ever-congenial Cordero before he recalls a recent phone call between his wife and a friend who resides down the coast in upscale Newport Beach. 

“Let me speak with your husband,” the friend demanded, and after Cordero got on horn she sternly asked, “What are you doing about all these ships in the water? They’re an eyesore!” 

Ensuring beautiful, unobscured views for coastal residents is not normally found in seaport chief’s job description, but the ever-resourceful Cordero had an answer for the refined lady:

“You know how to make the ships go away? Stop shopping.”

Click.

Naturally, the Fashion Island shopping sprees have not ended any sooner than everyone else’s retail therapy, virtual or otherwise. Even before a global pandemic jolted the supply chain, ports around the planet were in the expanding and modernizing mode, especially with the arrival of ever-larger cargo vessels and the need to move more goods by on-dock rail due to concerns about truck emissions and dwindling driver rosters. 

The thing about being competitive is . . . there is always someone else being competitive. Already responsible for 2.6 million direct and indirect jobs across America, the Port of Long Beach has stepped up its game with a 300-acre, completely electric terminal that can handle up to 3.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and by itself would rank as the sixth busiest container port in the country. 

While truly spectacular to behold—as you will discover if you read to the end—the LBCT, as the hip kids call it, is but one of many port enhancement projects happening around the world. What follows are just some—with estimated price tags that would even raise a Neiman Marcus shopper’s manicured brow.

South Carolina port expansions

$985 million (and another $5 billion likely on the way)

To open the first terminal in the nation since 2009, crews in North Charleston, South Carolina, dealt with challenging site conditions, waterways, motorists and even . . . gulp . . . bombs. That’s because the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal occupies a former naval base that was used as an airfield during World War II, opening up the possibility of previously undetonated ordnance going “BOOM!” on former training grounds.

It’s full speed ahead for Leatherman as entities up and down the East Coast scramble to expand port capacity to accommodate larger ships from the widened Panama Canal. The new terminal includes a 1,400-foot berth and yard that can accommodate 19,000 TEU ships, with a capacity of 700,000 TEUs, for the Port of Charleston. Five ship-to-shore cranes that were delivered in 2020 are now the tallest in South Carolina. 

At full buildout, Leatherman will have three berths, cover 286 acres of area and include about 3,500 linear feet of marginal wharf, with a channel depth of 52 feet. Ultimate capacity will be 2.4 million TEUs, or roughly double what the deepest water port on the East Coast previously handled. After welcoming its first container on March 30 and first ship on April 9, Leatherman helped its port attain record numbers in May and be honored the following month as the 2021 South Carolina Project of the Year by the American Society of Civil Engineers’ state section. 

Meanwhile, the port authorities of South Carolina and Georgia are negotiating to jointly operate a $5 billion terminal in Jasper County, South Carolina. Operating on a 1,500-acre site that’s 8.5 miles downstream from Garden City, Georgia, the Jasper Ocean Terminal would have the capacity to transfer 8 million TEUs a year and meet the Southeast’s cargo demand through at least mid-century. The Washington Post recently reported that Jasper would create 900 direct jobs with an estimated $81 million payroll, 1 million high-paying jobs nationwide between 2040-50 and $9 billion in revenue for the two states. South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), who has been working on the project for nearly 20 years, recently put it best when he told the Hilton Head Island Packet, “This makes all the economic sense in the world.” 

Georgia Ports Authority Peak Capacity project

$525 million

With the Port of Savannah seeing a 25 percent increase in TEUs handled in July, its Garden City Terminal breaking container trade records for nine out of the past 10 months by that time, the Port of Brunswick experiencing a 39 percent jump in auto and machinery units passing through in July (with ro-ro records of its own in four out of the 10 months)—and demand expected to just keep rising through the end of the year—expansion is required merely to keep up.

Which explains GPA expediting its Peak Capacity project to add 700,000 TEUs over two phases beginning this fall. Then, in March 2022, a Garden City Terminal chassis storage facility will open on a 25-acre parcel along Georgia State Route 21. The expansion wagon rolls on in 2023, when improvements of Berth 1 at Garden City Terminal are expected to be completed and 92 more acres of land will be added to up capacity by 750,000 TEUs. 

The berth project, which also includes the purchase of eight new ship-to-shore cranes, will allow the Port of Savannah to simultaneously serve four 16,000-TEU vessels as well as three additional ships. Rail lift capacity is expected to double to 2 million TEUs annually thanks to the Mason Mega Rail Terminal project at a port that already handled 9.3% of total U.S. containerized cargo volume and 10.5% of all American containerized exports in fiscal year 2020.

Expansion cannot come soon enough for GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch, who last spring remarked, “Right now, we are moving container volumes that we did not expect to see for another four years.” 

Tanzanian ports’ expansion and creation 

$500 million+ (and another $10 billion possibly on the way)

During Xi Jinping’s maiden foreign tour shortly after he became China’s president in March 2013, he and then-Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete watched over the signing of a framework agreement between the East African nation and China Merchants Holdings International. Under terms of the deal, China’s largest port operator would build a new $10 billion port in Bagamoyo, which is about 47 miles north of the thoroughly congested Dar es Salaam Port, Tanzania’s largest. 

However, negotiations stalled—until the country’s current President Samia Suluhu Hassan said during a recent gathering of the Tanzania National Business Council, “Regarding the Bagamoyo Port project, let me give you the good news that we have started talks to revive the whole project.”

If what is currently planned at Bagamoyo comes to pass, that port would dwarf the Port of Mombasa, which is nearly 320 miles to the north in neighboring Kenya and is currently East Africa’s main gateway. But Dar es Salaam Port has steadily undergone expansion and modernization that is also aimed at overtaking Mombasa. Work has included the strengthening and deepening of seven berths, including a ro-ro terminal that has already allowed the Tranquil ACE Panama to call with 3,743 vehicles aboard. Expanding and dredging the ship entrance channel, turning circle and harbor basin are expected to be completed soon.

Tanzania Ports Authority, which oversees Dar es Salaam, also has strengthening, deepening and construction going on at the ports of Mtwara and Tanga. A new port in Karema is due for completion in March 2022 and, in addition to Bagamoyo, the government is exploring building new ports in Mbamba-bay, Manda and Matema. 

Port of Virginia dredging, widening and more

$350 million

Growing business at the Port of Virginia in Norfolk set the stage for the project that includes dredging commercial channels that serve the Norfolk Harbor to accommodate super-size cargo vessels as well as widening channels to allow for two-way traffic.

The port is also doubling capacity at the Norfolk International Terminals railyard and aiming to become Virginia’s wind industry hub by leasing 70 acres of land at its Portsmouth Marine Terminal to Dominion Energy. Portsmouth is to be used as a staging space to deploy equipment for building massive wind turbines by Dominion, which plans to build its $7.8 billion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind farm 27 miles off Virginia Beach’s coast with 180 giant propellers.

The Port of Virginia work “speaks directly to our customers, the ocean carriers,” port spokesman Joe Harris tells reporter Elizabeth Cooper in an Aug. 30 Virginia Business article. “In two years, you are going to be able to bring in bigger ships and bigger ships with more cargo.”

Port of Antwerp’s Europa Terminal expansion

$304.6 million

To keep up with rising demand, the Port of Antwerp authority in 2010 approved a 15-year, 1.6-billion-euro investment plan that would capitalize on a shuttered General Motors factory. And by the end of this year, the first phase of the three-phase, nine-year Extra Container Capacity Antwerp (ECA) project begins with a goal of optimizing existing capacity. 

Upon completion, expansion of the port’s Europa Terminal will allow two mega-max ships to operate simultaneously. That terminal’s current, 1,200-meter quay wall will be completely demolished, and the adjacent front quay will feature new flooring, shoreside power hookups and the installation of large container cranes.

“Containers are the most important segment at our port and a growth segment in the world; our yearly figures in 2020 prove this once again,” Port of Antwerp spokesman Lennart Verstappen recently told Port Technology. “And the trend toward more containers for transporting goods will only continue. This deepening is in line with our ambition to continue to grow as a port in a sustainable way and will contribute toward maintaining our position as a world port.”

Port Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project

$295 million

For an example of how government works slowly, we travel to Texas, where widening and deepening the channel at Port Freeport received initial congressional approval in 2014. The final chunk of joint funding arrived thanks to a 2018 voter initiative. And just when you thought the project was languishing, Port Freeport became one of two seaports nationwide to receive a “new start” designation in February 2020 for commencement of construction. 

The ceremonial groundbreaking for the Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project was finally held this past April 8—and not a moment too soon. The region’s ongoing industrial expansion fueled by the production of shale oil and gas, as well as the port’s proximity to fast-growing populations, necessitated late inning fast-tracking. The project should prolong Freeport’s status as a leader in the export of crude oil, natural gas liquids and chemicals as well as the create more jobs (279,780, per a 2019 Economic Impact Study by Texas A&M Transportation Institute) and total economic output ($149 billion; ditto).

Widening and deepening for today’s mega-fleets will take about five years to complete, which will coincidentally coincide with the 100th anniversary of Port Freeport being created by the voters of Brazoria County, who in 1925 recognized the importance of diverting the Brazos River so the region would have a reliable, deep-water port for the movement of commerce. “I am grateful to those who had the bold vision and fortitude to divert the Brazos River to give this area a deep-water port advantageous for economic prosperity,” says the port’s CEO Phyllis Saathoff, who obviously recognizes it takes a village and leadership when she adds, “Now it is our turn to deliver the deep-water port for future generations. . . . Our region will greatly benefit from this project, as well as our local, state, and national economies.”

Port of Baltimore dredging

$122.1 million

These days, you don’t see members of opposite parties shaking hands let alone rubbing elbows (thanks, COVID). But Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan and the nation’s Democratic Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg came together on July 29 to marvel at the recently expanded and improved upon Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore.

Thanks to dredging operations completed in April to create a second, 50-foot deep container berth at Seagirt Marine Terminal, the port will be able to accommodate two ultra-large ships simultaneously by the end of this year. The project was hailed for receiving the kind of bipartisan support that the Biden administration was seeking at the time for the $4.5 trillion infrastructure plan that the House narrowly passed in late August.

As Buttigieg toured the port’s Dundalk Marine Terminal, Hogan remarked, “Truly, you could not have picked a better stop for your first port visit as transportation secretary, and your visit could not be more timely.”

Buttigieg noted that the infrastructure bill had a “blue-collar blueprint,” citing the example of the expansion of Baltimore’s Howard Street Tunnel to accommodate double-stacked rail cars moving cargo to and from the port and improving capacity from Charm City to rail lines along the entire East Coast. “So much of what we buy and sell is flowing through ports like the one we’re at right now,” he said. “Top of the line machinery, made in America.”

SSA Jacksonville Container Terminal berth enhancements

$104 million

Like the Baltimore project, the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) improvements at Blount Island, where 700 linear feet of newly rebuilt deep-water berthing space was added, are the result of a public-private partnership. JAXPORT and SSA Atlantic are also making yard improvements and deepening the harbor.

Upon completion, the facility will feature two newly reconstructed 1,200-foot-long container berths capable of simultaneously accommodating two post-Panamax vessels. The berths are electrified to handle a total of 10 state-of-the-art environmentally friendly electric-powered 100-gauge container cranes, including three currently in use.

“These projects all work together to maximize Jacksonville’s logistics advantages for our customers and bring more jobs and business to Northeast Florida,” says Eric Green, CEO of the Sunshine State’s largest container port that’s also one of the nation’s top vehicle-handling ports. 

Port of Long Beach Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project
$1.5 billion

Under skies that were unusually dark and cloudy for summer in Southern California, Cordero, the Port of Long Beach executive director, manned a podium facing what appeared to be as many TV news cameras as breathing beings. 

“Here we have the Amazon state of mind,” he says. “And what does that mean? Create efficiencies, reliability and in the age of e-commerce, obviously consumers expect things tomorrow, and the supply chain is in a full-court press to create greater efficiencies. So certainly, for us at the Port of Long Beach, it was well worth the investment of $1.5 billion for what you see here this morning.”

As if on cue, Cordero is upstaged by unmanned cranes, gantries and vehicles ever so diligently moving cargo containers off the massive COSCO Andes that is docked behind him.

“Efficiency is everything,” Anthony Otto, the LBCT’s CEO, says during his trip to the podium. “We designed the yard so that we can move more TEUs per acre.” While a traditional container terminal typically handles 6,000 to 8,000 TEUs per acre, LBCT can process 12,000 to 15,000 TEUs per acre. “It makes us, the Port of Long Beach and every link in our supply chain more competitive,” Otto says.

The terminal includes a container yard, an administration building and an on-dock rail yard designed to handle 1.1 million TEUs annually and minimize truck traffic on local roads and freeways. Additionally, 14 of the most modern ship-to-shore gantry cranes line a new, 4,200-foot-long concrete wharf capable of welcoming three massive ships at once. 

“By any measurement, be it berth productivity, be it speed of trucks through our gates or the velocity of our rail system, which is the largest in North America, we have definitely set the bar for our industry,” Otto says. “Additional capacity means more cargo, which means more supply chain jobs, which means a strengthening of our regional and national economy. More land, more cranes, more berth capacity, just more of everything needed to better service the goods movement industry and to maintain the Port of Long Beach as the preferred gateway into the United States.”

He later alluded to the sight that irked that Newport Beach lady. “If you notice the ships that are anchored off shore, this additional capacity is badly needed right now. Trade is strong, and the capacity that we are adding here is really something that’s coming just in the nick of time.”



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