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Port Nears Busier Days with Entry of Shipper

by Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian, February 14, 2006

Docks - One container line says it will call on Portland,
and a second one soon will decide on doing the same

The Port of Portland appears to be ready for a comeback, more than a year after two-thirds of its ocean transportation chain to Asia was severed.

One container shipping company has decided to establish Portland service, its shipping agent said Monday, and a second line soon will decide whether to do the same. Only one trans-Pacific container line, Hanjin Shipping, has served the Port since two carriers pulled out in late 2004.

Regaining vessels to import gadgets and goodies from China while exporting potatoes and pears from Oregon would be a coup for the Port, which wants the jobs and regional economic benefits from transporting goods. Since 2004, it has seen container export volumes plummet 53 percent and container imports fall 8.5 percent.

Portland's loss has meant more jobs and revenue over the past year for the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, and fewer options for Oregon's agricultural exporters.

Precisely what effects increased Port business could have on employment is hard to gauge, but longshoremen say the loss of the two container lines cost scores of part-time and fill-in workers in Portland their jobs.

On Monday, the exclusive shipping agent for Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp. said the Taiwan-based line has decided to begin Portland service, probably in June. Lois Dyck, district manager for Pan Pacific Shipping Co., said

Yang Ming would drop a Vancouver, B.C., stop in favor of Portland.

Yang Ming officials could not be reached Monday to comment.

The Port of Portland confirmed that Yang Ming had expressed its intention to begin Portland service this summer.

Port officials also have been negotiating with Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., and the Israeli company's president of North American operations said Monday that it expects to decide within a week whether to begin serving Portland.

As for Yang Ming, Dyck said it initially would use five vessels capable of carrying 1,500 standard containers, with stops in Tacoma, Taiwan and China. Those small, older ships are expected to be replaced by vessels 21/2 times larger in 2007, she said.

Yang Ming opened its first dedicated U.S. terminal last year in Tacoma.

"I think their vision is targeting additional services in the Northwest," Dyck said.

Although congestion at major West Coast ports in Los Angeles and Puget Sound was not as pronounced last year as 2004, shipping lines continue to look for the cheapest, fastest way to move booming China trade to American consumers. Every day that a ship sits at anchor because a marine terminal or rail line is backed up costs the steamship line $30,000 or more.

The Port of Portland's strategy to lure back carriers over much of the past 18 months has been to tout its lack of congestion on the docks and its rail connections to the Midwest.

Midwest rail connections through Portland make it an attractive option, said Tommy Stramer, Zim's North American president. "Our aim is to open this gateway to the Midwest," he said.

Stramer said his company expects to decide soon whether to abandon a Seattle stop for Portland. In the meantime, Zim is negotiating rates with the Port and the two main rail lines that serve Portland, the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

Spokesmen for both railroads said Monday they do not comment on rate negotiations.

Stramer said that if service moves to Portland, it would involve 13 vessels with capacity for 3,500 standard containers. Ports of call include stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Korea and the Mediterranean.

Sam Ruda, the Port of Portland's marine director, said opening up markets in the Mediterranean "would be a nice win for the Port and for the region."

Chris Mergenthaler, a partner in Geo. S. Bush & Co., a Portland-based freight forwarder, is co-chairman of a Port-organized committee working to restore container service to Portland. He said Monday that the Yang Ming service is encouraging, but that Zim's decision could be even more significant.

"If a carrier chooses Portland over Seattle, that's a complete change in service structure," he said. "Where this could all lead to is redefining us not just as a destination but as a gateway."

Alex Pulaski
Port Nears Busier Days with Entry of Shipper
The Oregonian, February 14, 2006

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