Port industry leaders seek to chart course to recovery

By: | at 07:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTWestern Hemisphere seaport industry leaders can hope their ports’ rebound from the global financial collapse is comparably swift and successful as the bounce-back from Hurricane Ike of the Port of Galveston, which in late October played host to the 98th annual convention of the American Association of Port Authorities.
Galveston’s port was back working a vessel eight days after the Sept. 13, 2008, assault of Ike on the Texas Gulf Coast, and, as some 400 convention participants saw, the port and the island on which it is situated are well on the road to full recovery.
As difficult as return from natural disaster may be, coming back from financial calamity may be still more daunting.
“This is a very challenging time for the entire global economy,” said Dr. Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, in concluding a one-year term as AAPA’s board chairman. “It has been sobering for all port executives to witness the results of reduced cargo volumes and their impact on the business plans of so many maritime institutions.
“Here in Galveston, it is impressive to see the remarkable recovery from Hurricane Ike,” Knatz continued. “All those associated with public port authorities have, in an economic sense, had to plot their own recoveries through adaptive management to ensure the sustainability of their operations.
“Challenges, much like severe weather, need to be planned for, and their ultimate outcome is determined by the skill and determination of dedicated port professionals,” added Knatz, who was succeeded as AAPA chairman by Michael A. Leone, port director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, who also served as AAPA chairman in the 2003-04 term.
In opening ceremonies of the Oct. 25-29 AAPA gathering at the Galveston Island Convention Center, Gary G. Nelson, executive director of the Aberdeen, Wash.-based Port of Grays Harbor, said he believes the attributes now needed by port industry leaders are similar to those used by Galvestonians to come back from Ike, as well as from an even-more-destructive 1900 hurricane: Resiliency, persistence and perseverance.
Ross Gaudreault, president and chief executive officer of the Québec Port Authority, completing his term as chairman of AAPA’s Canadian delegation, took an optimistic approach, commenting, “The world economic crisis is an opportunity for our ports to share and prepare the ground to bounce back stronger.”
Convention-goers also got some positive vibes from economist Paul Bingham, managing director of Washington-based IHS Global Insight, who authors the monthly Port Tracker reports issued by the National Retail Federation.
“The good news is the recession is over,” Bingham pronounced, adding that recovery in 2010 should be moderate, followed by stronger upturns in 2011 and 2012. “Thus, the road to US recovery will be a long one.”
Bingham’s forecast calls for volumes of US imports and exports, respectively, to rise by 8.9% and 5.8% in 2010 compared with 2009 and further increase by 6.6% and 7.1% in 2011, following a 14.3% drop in imports and 11.3% decline in exports in 2009 compared with 2008.
Dr. Stephen E. Flynn, senior fellow for counterterrorism and national security studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, cautioned that inappropriate governmental response to perceived terrorism threats is likely to be an even greater concern for the port industry than the economic collapse.
“The biggest risk that the maritime community faces is not so much the real threat of being targeted by terrorists but how our governments react to that problem or, more precisely, overreact,” Flynn said, citing the controversy stirred in 2006 when Congress fought the assumption of numerous US port terminal operations by United Arab Emirates-based DP World. Flynn called the DP World debacle “one of the silliest chapters” in US history.
In another session, Tay Yoshitani, chief executive officer of the Port of Seattle, said that, while virtually all ports currently have

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.