Ports Expand on Both Sides of Pacificby Steve Brown
Capital Press, September 1, 2011
Asian investors say they seek profits, food security
SEATAC, Wash. -- By 2050, China's population is expected to number nearly 1.5 billion, and Pacific Northwest ports are likely to help meet its demand for food.
"The Columbia River district will play a key role in feeding those new mouths," said Larry Clarke, chief executive officer for EGT, which stands for Export Grain Terminal.
From Seattle, Tacoma and Portland, ocean-going ships haul grains, corn, soybeans and other foodstuffs in containers and in bulk to customers in China and elsewhere in Asia, taking advantage of the region's proximity to the Pacific Rim and shorter transit times.
A fourth major port will open soon in Longview, Wash., on the Columbia River. Clarke described the facility during the recent Grain Export Shipping Conference.
The new terminal is designed specifically for loading bulk grain from unit trains, in which all of the cars are shipped from a single point of origin to the same destination. It will also handle grain coming down the Columbia River by barge.
The first export grain terminal built in the U.S. in more than two decades is a joint venture of Bunge North America; Itochu, a Japanese company; and STX Pan Ocean, a Korean shipping company. The Asian investors, Clarke said, are seeking both profitability and food security.
The facility should be able to handle 8 million metric tons of grain per year. That's 650 unit trains and 200 vessels. Its 36 silos, with a capacity of 4.7 million bushels, will handle multiple grains and will have the ability to clean grain.
The partners in the venture plan to "take full control of supply chain," Clarke said, dealing directly with suppliers for more competitive prices.
"Agriculture is one of the primary avenues to exports, a way we can lift ourselves out of the recession," he said.
At the Port of Tacoma, Curt Stoner, manager of the container terminal business, said his facility is working to upgrade cranes to accommodate larger vessels in the deep-water port. The port handles container ships, auto carriers, bulk carriers and break bulk carriers. Break bulk cargo is loaded individually, such as bags, bales, barrels, boxes, drums, pallets and vehicles.
Tacoma is one of the largest container ports in North America, with five major terminals handling Panamax and post-Panamax ships. Panamax is the largest ship that can traverse the Panama Canal: 950 feet long and 106 feet wide with a draft of 39.5 feet. Larger ships are called post-Panamax.
The Port of Seattle has four major container terminals dedicated to serving 29 ocean carriers. About 2 million containers cross the port's docks every year.
It also has a grain elevator with a 4.2-million-bushel capacity, handling mainly corn and soybeans from the upper Midwest and the Northern Rockies.
The Port of Portland is the largest wheat-export port in the U.S., moving 4.7 million tons of grain in 2010. Josh Thomas, media relations manager for Marine and Industrial Development, said the port has recently invested $500 million in its various facilities, including seismic retrofitting and deepening the Columbia River channel.
Asian ports expand
Steven Rothberg, a founding partner of Mercator International, said many Asian ports -- most of them geared primarily for containers -- are expanding to feed their growing populations.
Maersk shipping company has ordered 20 18,000-TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) vessels. He said it has become critical that ports have channels at least 50 feet deep and gantry cranes able to span 200 feet of vessel.
Three of Northern China's eight primary ports are among the 25 largest in the world, capable of a combined throughput of 27 million TEUs. A dry bulk grain terminal in Dalian is seeing a building boom.
Shanghai is the largest port in the world. Its throughput, combined with two others in the region, is 48 million TEUs, larger than all the U.S. and Canada ports combined. These ports are undergoing "extreme expansion," Rothberg said.
South China's ports are concentrated on the Pearl River delta. Because of problems with siltation, development in the region is tapering off.
Japan, which receives 85 percent of its container traffic through five gateways, has only two ports that can handle fully laden larger ships. Korea has excess capacity, with 22 berths available for post-Panamax vessels at two ports. Taiwan is building a new terminal for larger vessels, but it is challenged by wind conditions.
Southeast Asia has only five ports big enough for large vessels.
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