The Port of Richmond, Calif., known for its history as a shipbuilding center during the Second World War, now handles a wide mix of cargo, and is especially known for its Point Potrero Marine Terminal where Auto Warehousing Co. has a facility.
The Port of Richmond, Calif., located on the northeast shore of the San Francisco Bay, may be best known for its history as a shipbuilding center during the Second World War, but it continues to handle a wide mix of cargo across its docks.
The Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond produced 747 ships during World War II – 519 Liberty ships and 24 “pint-size” Liberty Ships, 142 Victory ships (the museum ship Red Oak Victory is docked just outside of the port’s executive office), 12 frigates, 35 troop transports, and 15 tank landing ships (LSTs). That level of production was “unequaled anywhere in the world before or since,” according to information from the National Park Service’s Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front museum, which celebrates the history of women in the industrial workplace.
James Matzorkis, the executive director of the Port of Richmond, says the city has tried to preserve some of that history amidst the port’s current bustling activity.
The port has a mix of private terminals and facilities owned by the city and leased to private operators.
The footprint of the port is dominated by the Point Potrero Marine Terminal, where Auto Warehousing Co. has a facility that receives Honda, Acura and Subaru vehicles.
In 2004, the port made improvements to its automobile handling facilities, after which Hyundai and Kia began using Richmond as an import gateway. Honda, which had been a past user of the port, in 2009 finalized an agreement to return to Richmond. The 25-year deal paid for about $40 million in structural improvements to port property, the terminal facilities and rail infrastructure to support the growing auto operation.
Honda guaranteed the city of Richmond a certain amount of income over a 15-year period to assure the repayment of the debt service it took on. But when Honda came to the port, Hyundai and Kia changed their distribution plans and took their business to other ports, primarily in Southern California.
Several years after the improvements, Subaru began importing cars through the port as well. Subaru’s sales have blossomed in recent years in the U.S. – the company reported its eighth consecutive yearly sales record in 2016 – and “they’ve been a great success story,” said Matzorkis.
With the automotive import business becoming less regional, Richmond must now compete not just with Bay-area terminals, but with ports up and down the West Coast.
Richmond is just one of many ports in and around the San Francisco Bay area. While Oakland dominates the region’s container trade, Matzorkis notes that San Francisco, Redwood City, Benecia, and the river ports of West Sacramento and Stockton each handle a variety of niche cargos.
AMPORTS operates a terminal for automobiles in Benecia, and Pasha (once a Richmond tenant) has begun to move roll-on/roll-off cargo through San Francisco. After Ports America and MSC closed their joint container terminal in Oakland last year, Port Director Chris Lytle said it might consider diversifying into ro-ro or other non-containerized cargo, but the port has made no move in that direction as yet.
But Matzorkis said he is not concerned about local competition, noting that the automotive import business has become less regional in recent years and Richmond must now compete not just with Bay-area terminals, but with ports up and down the West Coast, from San Diego, Los Angeles and Hueneme in Southern California all the way to Portland, Ore.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to each port” that may attract each automobile manufacturer, he said.
One advantage of Richmond is its large railyard, which is used both to transport automobiles arriving from overseas inland and to receive automobile exports from domestic factories.
In addition to the auto terminal, the port has a liquid bulk terminal operated by California Oils Corp., a vegetable oils company which was acquired last year by Sweden’s AAK from Mitsubishi, and a forest product terminal operated by RJJ Resource Management on its Santa Fe Channel.
Richard Lyu, the owner of RJJ, said his company moved about 8,000 40-foot containers filled with logs through the Port of Oakland last year.
This year, however, the company will ship fewer containerized logs because it plans to load five to six handy-size bulk carriers bound for China, Japan and Korea. The logs are harvested from privately-owned land, including trees that died in California’s recent drought or the 2013 Rim Fire and 2014 King Fire.
Chevron has a massive refinery in Richmond and a private tanker dock located outside the port. The Santa Fe channel is inhabited by the privately-owned Levin Richmond dry bulk terminal and a number of petrochemical companies, including BP, Arco and Union 76. And the port leases space to companies like Marine Spill Response Co., which has contracts for cleaning up oil spills; Foss Maritime; and Alcatraz Cruise, which ferries tourists to the prison museum in San Francisco Bay operated by the National Park Service.