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Portland In Line to Pick Up West Coast Overflow

by Shelly Strom, Business Journal staff writer
Portland Business Journal, March 27, 2005

Backups that last year left ships waiting for days at Southern California ports and cargo that continues to languish on the docks at the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, put the Port of Portland in new light, said port officials.

"I think long term, we are going to be able to attract carriers that traditionally might not be interested in Portland," said Port of Portland Marine Director Sam Ruda. The port is fielding inquiries from shipping lines and this week sent its chief shipping line liaison on a journey to Asia for face-to-face meetings.

The situation, he said, could yield agreements with cargo carriers that want to provide additional service here. Only one Asia-based containerized cargo carrier calls in Portland.

Better capacity on railroads and highways that feed into the Port of Portland would ease port congestion by allowing cargo to pass through port terminals more rapidly, Ruda said.

"In many cases, the terminals themselves could handle more cargo. The infrastructure needs outside the terminal are going to continue to be a problem," he said.

More than ever, the port is focused on maintaining and expanding the region's infrastructure.

Connecting ports with mainline railroads is "the major strategic planning issue that ports and regions need to be focused on," Ruda said.

"A number of carriers are currently in the process of determining where to place new trans-Pacific vessel strings, and as they're looking for alternatives to Southern California and studying the large volumes expected to enter Pacific Northwest ports this year, it is driving interest in the Port of Portland," said Port of Portland maritime operations spokesman Eric Hedaa.

In British Columbia, officials made what may be an unprecedented move to turn away cargo.

British Columbia's Deltaport in Vancouver became snarled by record cargo volumes that increased 11 percent in 2004. At the end of February, a backlog of 5,000 TEUs -- the equivalent of cargo that fits into a 20-foot container -- clogged the port.

As a result, officials requested that ships reduce by 25 percent the number of containers discharged at its terminal. About half of the container volume remained mid-March and was rapidly being eliminated, according to Deltaport contract operator TSI Terminal Systems Inc.

"The big spike in trade with China has driven containerized cargo farther north from its Southern California hub," said Peter Hurme, publisher of Seattle-based Marine Digest and Cargo Business News. "All of North America has become a choke point and it is getting worse."

Global container trade, according to New Jersey-based Journal of Commerce, has increased 9.5 percent annually since 1980. In recent years, the pace has quickened and is predicted to reach 13 percent this year, 9.7 percent in 2006 before dropping to 6 to 7 percent beginning in 2007, according to the journal.

All told, global container trade is predicted by many experts to double by 2014.

In order to keep pace with that kind of growth, however, investment is needed in infrastructure.

Shelly Strom
Portland In Line to Pick Up West Coast Overflow
Portland Business Journal, March 27, 2005

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