Ro/ro challenges and opportunities in Baltimore

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Lower volumes also bring expansion effortsBy Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOTThe Port of Baltimore held its 13th annual Ro/Ro Rodeo last month, a tribute to the importance of roll on/roll off cargo to the port. Over 200 longshoremen participated in driver exercises on May 19 and 20 at the port’s Dundalk Marine Terminal. In an event sponsored by the Maryland Port Administration, the Steamship Trade Association, and the International Longshoreman’s Association, members of ILA Local 333 received hands-on training from a variety of farm and construction equipment manufacturers as well as automakers.
Last year was a good one for the ro/ro business at the port of Baltimore, while this year, not surprisingly, volumes have shrunk. The same goes for ro/ro carriers. But that has not stopped the port or the carriers for seeking opportunities to expand business.
In 2008, ro/ro tonnage at the port of Baltimore’s public terminals rose 16%, from about 833,000 tons to 968,000 tons. “For the last decade, the port of Baltimore has remained the dominant ro/ro port in the United States,” said MPA executive director Jim White.
This year, with the recession hitting hard, business is down. “Our current fiscal year to date number,” which encompasses business from July 2008 through April 2009, “shows ro/ro at the Port of Baltimore down 13% from the same time last year,” said White.
But, he added, “Our market share has remained. Baltimore is still number one in the US for ro/ro.”
The port’s figures match the experience of at least one leading ro/ro carrier. “2008 was really a unique year, as shippers generated record loads of volume,” said John Felitto, executive vice president of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. “2009 has obviously been a difficult year in the logistics business, as the credit market crisis lead to dramatic reductions in consumer spending.”
But a tight market has spawned greater interest in the integrated outbound supply chain services offered by WWL. “Auto-makers and makers of agricultural and construction equipment have placed a priority on reducing their outbound distribution costs, giving us an opportunity to showcase to them our full supply chain management skills and tools,” said Felitto. He expects this trend to continue in 2009.
Baltimore’s 2009 Ro/Ro Rodeo included tractors, backhoes, combines and other heavy equipment from AGCO, Case New Holland, John Deere, JLG Industries and Krone North America. Manufacturers participating in the event explained operating procedures and answered questions about their newest products. Auto manufacturers participating include Mercedes, Ford, Subaru, and Porsche.
“The Ro/Ro Rodeo is one of the main cornerstones of the port of Baltimore’s reputation for excellent cargo handling and superior service,” said White.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics carries cars, tractors, construction machinery, boats, trucks, rail cars and project cargo in an out of the port of Baltimore. “Baltimore is a very versatile port,” said Felitto.
“Some ports we call at are more focus on just cars. We offer to carry all the same cargo from other east coast ports, but due to proximity to the Midwest manufacturing locations, Baltimore is preferred by many of our customers.
“Some industry observers might perceive the distance required to sail up and down the Chesapeake Bay as less than ideal,” he added. “However this often reduces inland distribution costs since it brings cargo closer to many regions of the country.”
Felitto described WWL’s terminal in Baltimore as “versatile.” “We are able to offer a wide range of value added services in Baltimore,” he said, “not only terminal related but also processing and technical services to get products ready for market.”
In 2009, WWL is attempting to compensate for lower volumes by adding services. “We’ve also been able to adjust our fleet schedules and we now can call on markets that have been under-served for the past decade while vessel capacity was tight,” said Felitto. “For example, we recently laun

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.