Editor’s Note: Following is an edited version of the remarks of Conrad H.C. Everhard before the first annual NY/NJ Port Industry Day, Liberty Park, NJ, on October 5, 2000.
In looking to the future, the changes that are taking place in ocean transportation seem to follow one guiding, but perhaps misguided, principle, that is - “BIGGER IS BETTER.” The 6,000 teu containership is quickly becoming the standard size and I understand that plans are being drafted for 15,000 teu ships. The impact of these behemoths is obvious in some ways, particularly on PORTS - more dredging, bigger cranes, terminals larger than your average farm, etc. - but there are broader consequences that are just beginning to be recognized, marginal social cost.
’ ENERGY: Since the larger ships will be limited to fewer ports, many of the containers that now move by water to smaller ports will be forced onto already crowded roads and rails. There’s an old Dutch rule of thumb that says that the fuel used in moving a container by rail is five times greater than by water and that a truck uses seven times as much fuel as a ship to move that same box. Haven’t the lessons of the past few months reminded us that energy efficiency is critical to this country’s future?
’ ROAD CONGESTION: Those of us here in the New York/New Jersey area don’t need to be told about traffic problems and the impact of a surge of containers onto 1-95 at Elizabeth or Newark. A few years ago, I moved to the other end of 1-95, in South Florida, and can tell you that the road is becoming a 2000 mile parking lot. The larger ships will not only put more containers onto the roads, but, even worse, will put them onto the most crowded roads (between ports on the same coast - e.g. New York and Boston) and will put them there in much greater concentration than several smaller ships spread out over days or weeks. Is this a rational trade-off for marginally better efficiency at sea?
’ SHORESIDE OPERATIONS: We’ve already witnessed trucker strikes across the country related to gate congestion and higher fuel costs. Are we ready to double or triple the number of boxes expected to move through terminal gates for a single sailing? Are labor contracts, particularly normal working hours, designed to accommodate two or three times as many boxes moving on and off the same ship?
’ POLLUTION: Increasing the number of full and empty containers moving into and out of a terminal for a single sailing can only aggravate the air pollution problems inherent in large numbers of diesel trucks idling for long periods in one location. Do we need Greenpeace adding to the congestion at terminal gates?
’ THEFT: It’s tough to steal a container from a ship, but all too easy to take one off the highway. This is a growing, but little publicized problem in our own country, and an epidemic with some of our trading partners. Isn’t increasing the vulnerability to theft in this manner flying in the face of the recently released Presidential study on seaport security?
’ FINANCING: Who will pay for the infrastructure necessary for such ships - dredging, cranes, land space, local roads, highways, rail connections, etc. Will any of it come from the pockets of those foreign-owned carriers who decide to increase their own efficiency by operating larger ships?
’ Vulnerability: The latest statistics for cargo handled at US ports shows that, already in 1999, the top three US ports handled more containers than the next 12 ports combined. And two of these, Los Angeles and Long Beach, are in many ways one port complex. Could we afford to have these ports disrupted for even a brief time by earthquake, labor problems, truck or rail problems, etc.? Are there alternative gateways?
Related to the dramatic growth in vessel size is the increase in size of the organizations operating those vessels. Mergers, consolidations, and alliances have not only placed the smaller operator at a disadvantage, but also rapidly shifted the power and ‘
influence of ocean carriers from West to East. Ten of the largest fifteen con