Port's Container Traffic
by Jon Bell
Loss of two shippers is primary reason for hit to bottom line
The departure of two shipping lines from the Port of Portland last year continues to take a sizable toll on the port's container traffic.
According to the April monthly report from port Executive Director Bill Wyatt, the total number of TEUs -- 20-foot equivalent units, the standard measurement for shipping containers -- that came through the port in March was 11,124, a 61 percent decrease from the 28,712 units in March 2004.
Total container traffic for the fiscal year, which ends June 30, also is down nearly 36 percent from last year.
Port spokesman Eric Hedaa said the loss of the Hyundai Merchant Marine and "K" Line shipping lines last year is the primary reason for the decrease. The two lines pulled out of Portland in September and December, respectively, leaving just one major transpacific container line, Hanjin Shipping, serving the port's Terminal 6.
The drop is illustrated by the decline in total ship calls in Portland: 214 for the first three months of 2001, 159 for January through March this year.
CP Ships Ltd. still runs container service from Portland to the Mediterranean -- and has since 1993 -- but that accounts for only a fraction of the container total. Hanjin, Hedaa said, handles 90 percent of the port's container traffic.
On the upside, the port has seen its bulk mineral exports -- namely soda ash and potash -- rise robustly over the past year. The total volume exported in March hit a record 600,000 tons, knocking aside the previous record of 500,000 tons, set in June 2000.
According to Wyatt's report, mineral bulk exports for March were up 67 percent from the same month in 2004. They've also increased nearly 9 percent for the fiscal year.
"A big factor in everything going on right now with trade is China," Hedaa said. "The growth in China is driving both of those exports."
China, however, isn't the sole source of the increased demand. The port director's report also points out that demand for potash is up in Brazil, India and multiple other countries that use it as fertilizer for crops that are then exported to China.
The amount of potash shipped from the Portland bulk terminal at Terminal 5 on the Columbia River hit its highest volume since the facility opened several years ago.
Still, the drop in container shipments was sufficient to drag down the total amount of tonnage that has moved through the port so far this fiscal year by 2.9 percent.
Auto imports, although they're up 3 percent for the year to date, dropped by 8.9 percent for March.
With Hanjin and "K" Line gone, the Port of Portland now has the capacity to accommodate up to three new lines -- about 400,000 TEUs annually -- making weekly calls at Portland, Hedaa said. That is, should any others decide to put Portland on their port rotation.
Over the past few years, major West Coast ports, from Los Angeles and Long Beach up to Vancouver, British Columbia, largely have overshadowed the Port of Portland in container shipping.
But the port is out actively recruiting new lines. Hedaa said two Port of Portland marketing associates are in Europe calling on transpacific container carriers there. The port is courting Asian shippers as well.
He said the marketers "are getting a much different response than they have in the past. It's much more positive."
That may be because Portland, with its available capacity, is starting to look like an attractive alternative to the crowded and overburdened ports in California and Vancouver. In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers' plans to deepen the Columbia River channel between Portland and Astoria are moving forward, albeit slowly.
"It's very nice for our marketing people to have that in their pocket," Hedaa said. "It's making an impression."
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