The Tide Also Risesby Editors
The Oregonian, October 23, 2004
Hanjin's expansion of Portland container shipping
will spare the port from losing its direct trade with Japan
Agricultural industries on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean got a break with Hanjin Shipping's unexpected announcement Thursday. The South Korean company said it will step up its presence in Portland beginning next month and preserve the city's direct trade route with Japan.
That's huge, if you're a Columbia Basin farmer who barges compacted hay down the river to the Port of Portland for container shipment to Tokyo.
It's also a big deal if you're a Japanese dairy farmer whose livelihood depends on Northwest-grown hay, which is decompressed after shipment and fed to Asian milk cows.
Same story for Columbia Basin potato growers and processors, and for the Japanese stores and eateries that depend on the frozen french fries shipped in refrigerated containers out of the Port of Portland.
Until Thursday's announcement, it appeared that Portland had lost its direct link to Japan with the September departure of container carrier Hyundai Merchant Marine and the looming December departure of "K" Line America. That news stuck Port of Portland shippers with having to use more expensive ways of getting their products to the Asian market.
Hanjin, however, announced that on Nov. 18 it will begin including Portland in a rotation of 12 vessels calling on Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and other Asian ports, as well as Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. The company will use much larger vessels than previously brought into Portland. Jeff McEwen, Hanjin's regional manager, said progress on the Columbia River channel-deepening project was crucial to the decision, because those bigger, wider ships -- designed to carry almost 50 percent more containers than those Hanjin now sends to Portland -- will need the extra depth to enable them to carry as much cargo as they should.
Another key for Hanjin, according to both McEwen and Bill Wyatt, the port's executive director, is the continuing commitment by Kroger Stores -- parent company of the Fred Meyer chain -- to use Portland as a national gateway for merchandise imported by container ship. This is particularly important to the shipper because the economic viability of coming to Portland depends on a balance of exports and imports.
Also influential in the Hanjin decision was the port's recent commitment to spend $11.35 million to add a third giant crane at its container terminal -- an investment that will greatly reduce time and labor costs for loading and unloading the big vessels.
Wyatt says Hanjin's expanded commitment to Portland will "get the attention of others" and help attract more container importers to the port. Let's hope he's right, because the Port of Portland's fortunes have been bobbing like a cork on the ocean while ports in Southern California have become so swamped that ships are waiting up to 10 days to be relieved of their cargoes of Chinese-manufactured goods.
It's questionable whether Portland can make a grab for some of these shipments, but the Hanjin decision can't hurt. Port officials' hard work and smart strategic moves played a role in the good news. Their efforts should be applauded -- and should continue.
Port Counts on a New Crane
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