East coast seaports lasso highly competitive ro-ro business

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Maritime  Ports & Terminals  

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTWhen one thinks of a rodeo, one imagines cowboys on horses lassoing steers and sheep in front of a cheering crowd.
But each year in May, the rodeo takes a different meaning at Dundalk Terminal at the Port of Baltimore, possibly the only seaport in the nation to host such an annual event. That’s when the port conducts its training exercises for more than 200 longshoremen to ensure they are skilled and know how to safely operate multi-ton pieces of roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) farm and construction equipment when driving them on and off steamship (ro-ro) vessels.
The seaport and its operators hope the event gives the Port of Baltimore an advantage in proving to equipment and automobile importers and exporters that its longshoremen are highly skilled at moving these expensive shipments where a scratch or a dent can be costly.
“The Rodeo allows men and women to be trained on equipment like tractors, backhoes, and combines. Individuals also receive training on how to properly lash down an auto,” comments Richard Scher, Maryland Port Administration (MPA) spokesman.
The training is paramount since a major requirement is being able to park cars or heavy equipment one to two inches apart on a ship.
“The RoRo Rodeo is one of the reasons why Baltimore is widely known for excellent cargo handling and safety,” comments Gary Jones, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Head of Terminals for Region Americas. “The rodeo really brings together our operations and our brand in a way that improves our relations with both customers and suppliers.”
A number of ro-ro carriers call at the Port of Baltimore: Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines (WWL), Hoegh, ACL, Mitsui O.S.K., NYK, “K” Line, CSAV, Nordana, NSCSA, Eukor, American Roll-On/Roll-Off Carrier, Spleithoff, Atlantic Ro/Ro Carriers, and CSAL.
“Their frequency ranges from several calls per week to monthly,” Scher says. “The vessel sizes vary with capacities of some in excess of 8,000 units per vessel.”
At Dundalk Terminal, WWL operates a Vehicle Processing Centre (VPC) for autos and High & Heavy equipment (H&H). Such operations provide customers with a more integrated, seamless “factory to dealer’” journey for its vehicles.
Today, WWL’s VPC spans 72 acres and offers 12,000 parking spaces and 25 truck loading spaces. It also offers a state-of-the-art car wash, a body shop facility for mechanical rectifications, an environmentally-friendly paint shop and increased storage space. Consequently, WWL is able to provide a broader array of technical services on a single site, including vehicle movement and storage, fitting of vehicle accessories, car washing, mechanical and body work, painting and under- coating, parts storage, and customer warranty work.
Such facilities offer seaports advantages in attracting ro-ro business.
By the Numbers
But given the downward global economy and the downtrodden sales data coming from the automotive industry, it comes as no surprise that car imports at the Port of Baltimore were down 15 percent in calendar year 2009 compared to 2008, and car exports were down 55 percent. Nevertheless, Scher emphasizes that MPA’s latest numbers indicate that autos are up 16 percent from last year while ro-ro is down 37 percent.
“Autos are our fastest growing commodity and are a good economic indicator,” Scher comments. “In calendar year 2009, autos were down 30 percent and ro-ro was down 38 percent from 2008.”
A recent MPA press release indicates that the Port of Baltimore handled more autos in March than at any time in at least the last ten years. That month, 38,053 autos came through its public terminals. The port’s previous record for most cars handled was 37,552 in July 2008.
“A stronger U.S. dollar should help our imports,” remarks Scher.
Scher points out that most imported ro-ro cargo comes to Baltimore from the Far East and Europe.
But a stronger dollar also does not help equipment exports from U.S. seaports.
“Approximately two-thirds of the H&H cargo moving th

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American Journal of Transportation