Besides highly competitive, Delaware River Ports are diverse and dynamic

By: | at 01:25 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

The ports along the Delaware River are among the most vibrant and important commercial industrial and maritime complexes in the northeastern United States. Today, with East Coast ports competing even more fiercely for traffic and trade in anticipation of the opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2015, the Ports of Philadelphia, South Jersey, and Wilmington are working hard to carve out their niche in cargos that make their facilities unique. The Port of Philadelphia continues to improve its facilities and infrastructure to assure future growth at the port. In fact, the port has earned the reputation of being akin to “New York without the congestion.” This is due, in part, to the expansion number of warehouse facilities that service the port vicinity in surrounding areas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as far as Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

Penn Warehousing, for example, has among some of the best rail access on the Delaware River. Its facilities have 70 rail sidings, including 15 inside. Norfolk and CSX arrive five nights per week. According to Tom Mutz, director, Global Business Development for Penn Warehousing & Terminal, Penn’s niche these days is in transloading.

“The transfer from break bulk to container is growing tremendously,” he says. “Penn has also developed a unique balance of exports and imports in transloading goods.”

The company’s facilities also indicate significant investment in green technologies with its motion sensor lighting in its warehouses that will pay for itself in a few years. Penn Warehousing also offers 24-hour web access to inventory.

Philadelphia Port Improvements

One of the biggest projects underway by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) is its Southport facility, a greenfield 220-acre terminal that will accommodate bulk and containerized cargo. Connected to Southport will be its companion facility Southport West, a 75-acre logistics park, along with highway and rail infrastructure.

Construction commenced on the Southport site in 2013. Already there is an access road that will serve Southport. A recently released video on the Port of Philadelphia depicts, among other aspects of the port, Southport’s future development at Piers 122 and 124, “Our marketing guys did a great job with the new video,” says PRPA Executive Director James T. McDermott, Jr. “In an efficient six minutes, our video depicts a healthy, busy port with a variety of facilities and services, and with big plans for the future. It’ll be a great conversation starter.”

Such big plans coincide with PRPA’s deepening of the Delaware River channel that services the terminals that encompass the Port of Philadelphia and other Delaware River ports. Over the last decade, the port has fought hard raising the funds to deepen 102 miles of the Delaware River shipping channel from a depth of 40 feet to 45 feet.

Today, the dredging project is some 60 percent complete. Since the first dredge vessel began its work over three years ago, “Reach C” (12 miles); a 4-mile stretch of “Reach B”; and most of the 11 miles comprising “Reach A” have already been completed. The project began in the spring of 2010 and is scheduled to be completed in 2017. The dredging is funded by both the federal government and the PRPA. While the 45 foot depth of the dredged channel will not be deep enough to facilitate the post-Panamax ships that will begin steaming the Panama Canal in 2015, port officials claim that a deeper shipping channel will allow the Port of Philadelphia to welcome a wider variety of cargo vessels to the Port of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia already attracts a wide variety of containerized and break bulk cargoes, including the majority of shipments of stone fruit and seasonal fruits from South America, all of which comes on vessels smaller than Panamax-size ships.

“The Port of Philadelphia is a very versatile port,” says PRPA Chairman Charles G. Kopp, Esq. “This is demonstrated by the fact that containers, break bulk cargoes, and liquid bulk all showed strong gains during the first six months of this year.”

The significance of these cargoes is evident by the increases in cargo volumes the Port of Philadelphia experienced in 2013. For the first six months of that year the port saw a 13.62 percent gain to 2,519,967 metric tons of cargo compared to the 2,217,803 metric tons of cargo handled between January and June 2012.

PRPA officials anticipate that when all figures are in for 2013, last year will have been the fourth straight year of double-digit cargo growth at the Port of Philadelphia.

Containerized freight weighed in at 1,184,147 metric tons of containerized cargoes for that period, compared to the 1,002,911 tons handled during that same period of 2012, indicating that containerized cargo tonnage was up a healthy 18 percent. Counted as TEUs, 168,820 TEUs of containers were handled YTD 2013 compared to the 135,656 TEUs handled during the same period of 2012, resulting in a 24 percent gain.

Break bulk cargoes showed a strong 18 percentile growth, when comparing the same two periods of 2012 and 2013. Contributing to this healthy growth was a 30 percent increase in metric tons of steel handled during that time frame. For the first six months of 2013, 116,249 metric tons of steel were handled YTD 2013 versus 89,292 tons handled during the first half of 2012. Much of the steel cargoes are used in the automobile and construction industries.

With 209,823 tons of forest products handled January-June 2013 compared to the 168,012 tons handled during the same period of 2012, forest products, which include newsprint, fine coated paper (used to print catalogs and magazines), pulp, and lumber, were up 25 percent. Cocoa beans experienced a 21 percent gain, with 86,438 metric tons of cocoa beans being handled January-June 2013 compared to the 71,631 tons handled during the same period of 2012. These are eventually manufactured into candy bars, cocoa powder, and a wide variety of chocolate products.

Fruit (126,121 tons handled), project cargo (21,884 tons handled), and automobiles (96,240 tons) performed at about the same levels during the first halves of both years. Sugar, a cargo that returned to the Port of Philadelphia in the latter half of 2012 after a long absence, continued to make a mark at the Port during the first half of this year with 23,479 metric tons handled.

Liquid bulk cargoes also showed a healthy gain YTD 2013 with 655,448 metric tons of liquid bulk arriving at the Port of Philadelphia.

Competitive Perishables Business

A worker loads the first pallet of fresh Chilean table grapes into the new, state-of-the-art “Box 5” refrigerated storage facility at the Gloucester Marine Terminal in Gloucester City, NJ. The renovated facility was completed just in time for the start of the Chilean winter fruit season.
A worker loads the first pallet of fresh Chilean table grapes into the new,
state-of-the-art “Box 5” refrigerated storage facility
at the Gloucester Marine Terminal in Gloucester City, NJ.
The renovated facility was completed just in time
for the start of the Chilean winter fruit season.

Perishables continue to be a highly competitive commodity with the Ports of Philadelphia, South New Jersey and Wilmington competing for their share of the business. PRPA bills itself as the No. 1 perishables port on the east coast with more than 2 million square feet of cold storage space, including the recently opened Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

In November, business leaders and government officials gathered at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia to mark the arrival of the first shipment of fresh citrus from Uruguay to the United States via the Port of Philadelphia. That shipment was made possible due to a ruling by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The imported fresh Valencia oranges are loaded onto cargo trucks at the terminal and sent to local distribution centers for disbursement throughout the region.

Acquiring the business was a major win for both the seaport and Uruguay, which had to reach new levels of safety in order to export the fruit to the United States.

“Thanks to an effective working relationship between Holt Logistics, PRPA, our friends in Uruguay, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other stakeholders in the port district, these fine citrus products from Uruguay will now regularly move through our Port and be greatly enjoyed by American consumers,” remarks Kopp. “This is a big win for everyone.”

Uruguayan agricultural officials have been working with US regulators for several years to improve control over pests and ensure safe import of Uruguayan fruit. To provide an appropriate level of phytosanitary protection, several regulations were put into place by Uruguayan authorities.

Working to expand trade to the Philadelphia port gateway, New Zealand’s ambassador to the U.S. recently visited the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in Philadelphia and met with executives from Holt Logistics Corp., the terminal’s logistics provider, as well as members of PRPA.

The Port of Philadelphia is a recipient of New Zealand products that are stored in cold storage, including apples and kiwifruit. Of major interest to New Zealand is the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would improve trade between the United States, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam. If passed, the TPP would end tariffs and other barriers to promote the movement of goods, services and trade and investment between these nations.

Other delegations underscore the importance of perishables to the seaport. In May of 2013, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, the Chilean Agricultural Minister Luis Mayol Bouchon and senior Chilean agricultural officials met at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia to observe the unloading of the Bahia Castillo, a refrigerated cargo ship carrying thousands of tons of fresh Chilean fruit to the United States and Canada through the Port of Philadelphia gateway.

Expanded trade with Chile and other Central and South American countries is expected to continue the growing momentum of the Port of Philadelphia as an economic gateway.

“The Chilean fruit trade is vital to the Port of Philadelphia,” says Leo A. Holt, on behalf of Greenwich Terminals, Inc., which operates the Packer Marine Terminal.

The Terminal is the largest of PRPA’s cargo facilities.

Recently, the Pennsylvania government participated in a trade mission to expand the Commonwealth’s partnerships with countries throughout Central and South America. “This means that we will have the chance to import more fruit and other commodities that strengthen the region’s economy in the process,” says Holt.

Pennsylvania and Chile have a shared history of interchange and understanding. The Ports of the Delaware River are the largest nexus of arrival for fresh Chilean fruit in the world including excellent and nutritious commodities such as grapes, apples, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots as well as summer citrus products.

Chilean fruit will get a further boost thanks to the recent $2 million renovation of the Gloucester Marine Terminal in Gloucester City, NJ. On December 24th, The NYKCool vessel, the Jorgen Reefer, unloaded 7,000 pallets of its shipment of 9,000 pallets of fresh Chilean fruit at the Delaware River terminal, a shipment that included Chilean winter fruit such as table grapes, blueberries, peaches, nectarines and plums.

The renovated terminal, or “Box 5” project, is a 60,000 square-foot state-of-the-art cold storage facility. equipped to handle both traditional pallets of produce as well as taller “Hicube” pallets that are used with large shipping containers. The facility has variable temperature controls that are able to accommodate all varieties of fruit products, and is equipped with state-of-the-art USDA-approved Cold Treatment equipment that adheres to the strict standards of import into the United States. The Gloucester Marine Terminal has over 1.1 million square feet of cold storage space.

The improvements were funded by Gloucester Terminals, LLC. The Gloucester Marine Terminal is home to the largest on-dock refrigerated facility in the United States, and host to the largest roof-mounted solar panel array in North America.

“This facility improvement underscores our commitment to providing the finest and most efficient perishable distribution center services in the United States,” says Leo A. Holt, president of Gloucester Terminals, LLC. “In our continuing efforts to stay ahead of the curve, we are now very well positioned to accommodate larger vessels and greater varieties of perishable and non-perishable products that will come to our port upon the completion of the Panama Canal widening and Delaware River deepening.”

Port of Wilmington

Cattle loading at the Port of Wilmington, DE
Cattle loading at the Port of Wilmington, DE

The Port of Wilmington has always dominated the landscape as the largest seaport in the United States for banana imports. The biggest news at the port in recent months, however, is Dole Food Company’s signing of a 15-year lease.

Dole is the port’s largest customer, importing bananas, pineapples and other fruit and exporting forest products and general cargo, and the company’s presence there makes it the biggest fresh fruit import port in North America.

“Their lease was going to expire, and they were being courted by one of our competitors – New Jersey’s Port of Paulsboro,” recalls Tom Keefer, deputy executive director of Diamond State Port Corp.

The Port of Paulsboro, traditionally noted for crude oil and petroleum products such as jet fuel and asphalt, is currently being redeveloped as an adaptable deep water omniport capable of handling a variety of bulk and break bulk cargo in addition to containerized freight.

But Dole has been a customer of the Port of Wilmington for over 30 years.

“They knew what they had here,” Keefer remarks. “They know this location and have a 38-some acre terminal within our terminal. They are in close proximity to an interstate highway and are a quarter mile outside the gate with no traffic light to the interstate.”

In addition, in 2006, the Port of Wilmington built a warehouse for Dole. The company also leased another warehouse for their tropical fruit business.

Dole ships carrying primarily bananas and pineapples arrive weekly to the Port of Wilmington. On the outbound, the shippers hauls craft liner board that Dole uses to make boxes for their bananas.

The port has other perishables clientele as well. At the moment, the big perishable coming to the port is Moroccan Clementine’s, a business that runs from late October into February. One ship arrives per week.

“We just signed a five year agreement with the Moroccan customer last year to keep their program at the Port of Wilmington,” says Keefer. “They’ve been here since 2000.”

A benefit, the Port of Wilmington boasts having the largest cold storage terminal complex at any port in the US.

Cold storage was a major reason for the Moroccan business coming to the port.

According to Keefer, initially Morrocan Clementine’s were imported via New Jersey’s Port of Newark. “But the importers were having difficulty getting the fruit to market in timely fashion,” Keefer says. “They said it was taking 45 days to get a container from Morocco to Port Newark.”

Having cold treatment at the port, however, made it possible for them to shorten their timetable by 20 days by using the facility as part of their cold storage process.

Now with improved on board processes, cold storage is more efficient. Moroccan Clementine’s arrive at Wilmington and are even trucked to Montreal, Toronto and the Canadian Maritimes.

While not a perishable, the Port of Wilmington is also seeing robust business in live stock exports.

Here some 50,000 to 55,000 Holstein heifers are being exported to Russia, Turkey and other markets including the Middle East for herd replenishment.

“The business grew 5 percent over last year,” Keefer says. “It’s very closely monitored by USDA to make sure animals are treated humanely. The ships that call here are specially designed for carrying livestock.”

Indicating the port’s diversity, the Port of Wilmington has also earned the designation “space port.” That’s because the Port of Wilmington is the discharge port for Orbital Science.

“They have a contract with NASA to supply the international space station,” Keefer says.

In mid January the port will be receiving two more booster cores for the space program. “They arrive on a special roll-on roll-off ship and are taken off while the ship is mid moored,” Keefer remarks.

South Jersey Port Corp.

South Jersey Port Corporation (SJPC) is noted for specializing in handling break bulk and bulk cargo. Its Beckett Street Terminal, Broadway Terminal, and Port of Camden receives hundreds of ships moving international and domestic cargo through the port’s facilities every year.

SJPC is particularly noted for its handling of wood and steel products. In the last 20 years, the SJPC has become the No. 1 port handling import wood products in the United States. The Port has also handled a growing array of steel products including, coil steel, slabs, wire rod, structural and pipe. Wood and steel products are truly a SJPC success story.

Its Port of Paulsboro may have missed out on reeling in Dole’s business, but it could become the site of a massive wind energy project that is being planned for off the coast of New Jersey. A feasibility study commissioned by Atlantic Wind Connection indicates that the port could be a viable place to construct converters to be shipped to the Atlantic Ocean for a wind energy project. The New Jersey Energy Link will be an offshore electrical transmission cable, buried under the ocean that will link energy resources and users throughout the state.

Converter platforms are approximately 20,000-ton offshore high-voltage direct current and alternate current substations necessary to the project that would create an offshore electrical transmission cable, buried beneath the sea, which would link resources and users throughout the state. It is expected to be built in three phases over 10 years, beginning in 2016, with the first phase expected to be online by 2019.

The company will lease a portion of the Port of Paulsboro to construct the converters once legislation is passed that would admit the New Jersey Energy Link into PJM’s Regional Transmission Plan.

Karen Thuermer's avatar

American Journal of Transportation