Ports America expanding key US ports

By: | at 10:00 AM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

Ports America is the largest terminal operator and stevedore in the United States, operating in more than 42 ports and 80 locations. Having more than 85 years of experience through predecessor companies, Ports America possesses dedicated resources that only a company of such scale and scope can deliver.

Two of the largest investments and expansions in which the company is involved today are at the Ports of Baltimore and New York/New Jersey. Much of the work ongoing at these ports centers on making them super post-Panamax ready.

Port of Baltimore

While most seaports on the East Coast are still working on positioning themselves to be ready to attract super-post-Panamax vessel calls once the Panama Canal opens in 2015, the Port of Baltimore is looking beyond that to creating greater port efficiencies and room for growth.

The Port of Baltimore already has the deep water and infrastructure to accommodate the large ships. In fact, Baltimore’s is one of only two East Coast ports to have all of the needed elements to accommodate the new class of super-post-Panamax ships able to carry three times more cargo than traditional ships such as the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Joanna: a 50-foot berth, 50-foot channel, and super-post-Panamax cranes.

Key to Baltimore’s position is the unique public-private partnership in which the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) entered with Ports America Chesapeake, a subsidiary of Ports America. Signed in 2010, the partnership regards leasing Baltimore’s Seagirt Terminal for 50 years to the port operator. In return, Ports America will invest $500 million in the project and provide $140 million to the state fund for highway, bridge and tunnel projects near the port.

“The $1.3 billion deal to enlarge the Seagirt Marine Terminal will create 5,700 jobs and positions Baltimore as one of only two U.S. East Coast ports with a 50- foot draft to handle the new super-post-Panamax cargo ships,” reports Marlene da Costa, vice president of Strategic Marketing, Ports America.

The dock can handle 14,000- TEU vessels. More than $142 million has been spent in equipment and environmental controls. Four super-post-Panamax cranes were delivered in 2012 and went into operation in 2013.

Baltimore’s 200-acre Seagirt Terminal is the focus of much of the port’s future in containerized freight. Up until then, Baltimore’s missing links were the 50-foot berth and super-post Panamax cranes. The new 50-foot berth has been completed, including dredging 50 feet down to create room for the new larger ships to approach and dock. Also now in place are four new super-post-Panamax cranes, the last part of a multi-year expansion project.

“In the last three years, Ports America has invested a quarter of a billion dollars in the port,” says James J. White, MPA executive director. “They see it as a great opportunity for them as the business grows.”

Meanwhile, White points out how everyone knows that ships keep getting bigger and bigger. In fact, Maersk’s first 18,000 TEU ship finally has been built and is now in service.

Although Baltimore’s Seagirt Terminal is already ready for the super-post Panamax ships that will transit from the wider Panama Canal, White emphasizes there is an additional need for port and channel improvements for container business coming through the port.

Port of NY/NJ

Ports America also has invested $500 million in New York/New Jersey, Port Newark Container Terminal (PNCT) in a phased expansion through 2030 that will encompass 32 acres. The expansion is the result of a long-term lease Ports America secured with the Port of New York/New Jersey. The lease agreement includes a 30 year option through 2050 and is one of the largest infrastructure projects in New Jersey.

The expansion will not only address anticipated increased traffic generated by the expanded Panama Canal in 2015, but also is expected to double the number of containers moving through the terminal.

The infrastructure investment includes the acquisition of 30 new straddle carriers, three rubber-tired gantry cranes, capable of lifting two containers simultaneously. Further expansion plans include, berth deepening and upgraded capital equipment including three super-post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes and mobile container-handling equipment. Three super-post-Panamax cranes are being built for delivery end 2014.

PNCT’s existing container yard will be expanded by around 80 acres, which, according to PNCT, is already well underway.

“This will create significant economic growth within the region,” says da Costa. The Port Authority of New York/New Jersey will invest up to an additional $150 million in improvements to the PNCT facility.

With gate access on Tyler Street, PNCT has three operating berths with 4,400 feet of berth space. The terminal is supported by six post-Panamax cranes, as well as straddle carriers, reach stackers and empty handlers.

PNCT offers daily connection service with CSX rail.

Despite being more than 2,000 miles away from the Panama Canal, the expansion of the shipping waterway is set to have a profound impact on PNCT, as well as other East Coast container terminals, for decades to come as larger super-post-Panamax vessels transverse the Canal in two years time.

PNCT located in Port Newark, New Jersey, currently handles more than 600,000 containers annually.

Top Challenges

Despite the many developments occurring in the terminal business, da Costa observes that challenges facing the industry as a whole stem from the oversupply in the container shipping industry.

“Add to this the fact alliances are reshaping the container market,” she says.

Another top challenge comes from changing trade dynamics with the redeployment (or cascading) of existing Panamax vessels to routes currently serviced by smaller vessels.

Meanwhile larger vessels will be transiting the Panama Canal after its widening in 2015.

“Ports must also be ready to address increased global demand for goods due to projected population and economic growth throughout other parts of the world,” she says.

She sees capacity oversupply continuing to undermine carrier financials and put pressure on rates and further down the supply chain.

“Long-term investments in ports (and surrounding infrastructure) and overall supply chain will be key to America’s growth and sustainability,” she says. “Automation, labor management and increased productivity will be essential in order for U.S ports to compete in the global market place.”

To address this ever-changing environment, she believes that public private partnerships are a great solution to port project funding.

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Karen Thuermer's avatar

American Journal of Transportation