Farmers and other shippers in Oregon got some good news this week when the South Korea-based container carrier SM Line announced it will bring weekly container shipping service back to Portland early next year.
The service “will create more jobs for Oregonians and more opportunities for local companies to grow as they market Oregon products overseas,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “Oregon sent $1.7 billion in exports to South Korea last year.”
She said that during a recent trade mission to South Korea, “we met with SM Line executives and made the case for continuing connections with our trading partners in Asia. I’m delighted they made the decision to come to Portland.”
Portland has been without direct container service since 2017.
“We are thrilled to welcome SM Line and give regional shippers more options and better connect Oregon businesses to global markets,” said Curtis Robinhold, executive director at the Port of Portland. “This service will help reduce the number of trucks on the road and decrease regional environmental impacts of freight movement.”
Without container service direct to the port, importers and exporters had to move their containers by truck or rail to ports such as Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.
SM Line’s Pacific Northwest Service will start including a Portland call, with the ship leaving the port of Ningbo in China, on Dec. 22, 2019. The service uses six vessels with capacity of 4,300 to 4,500 TEUs.
With the addition of Portland, the full port rotation for the service will be Yantian, China; Ningbo; Shanghai; Busan, South Korea; Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle; Portland; Busan; Kwangyang, South Korea; and Yantian. The first ship is expected to arrive in Portland in January 2020.
“The re-establishment of ocean container service to Asia from the Columbia River is long awaited and vital for agriculture and forest products exports,” said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition. “The benefits will extend not only to those who source in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, but also those who approach the West Coast gateway ports from further east by train.
“While the majority of agriculture and forest products exports will continue to move through the Puget Sound marine terminals in Tacoma and Seattle, any new Columbia River service, even at much smaller volumes, will provide an alternative to the costly truck dray up the congested interstate. It will make hours of service less costly for truckers bringing product from Oregon sources. This will also provide an opportunity for the ILWU Local which will be working these ships, to demonstrate their willingness and ability to match or hopefully exceed productivity elsewhere on the West Coast,” Friedmann added.
Terminal 6 was the scene of a protracted labor dispute among the terminal operator, the U.S. subsidiary of International Container Terminal Services Inc., ICTSI Oregon, which operated the terminal from 2011 and 2017, and the union representing longshoremen at the terminal, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
As productivity at the terminal plummeted, shipping lines stopped calling Portland, and the port eventually ended its lease with ICTSI Oregon.
Among the carriers that formerly called Terminal 6 were Hapag-Lloyd, Hamburg-Sud and Westwood. Korea’s Hanjin had also called the terminal prior to becoming insolvent in 2016.
Earlier this month, a federal jury awarded $93.6 million to ICTSI Oregon after finding ILWU members engaged in illegal work practices such as work slowdowns and stoppages.
The union contended ICTSI’s closure at Terminal 6 was caused by “ICTSI’s own mismanagement, the constraints of the Columbia River regarding oceangoing shipping and the financial troubles faced by the ocean carriers themselves that were unrelated to any actions taken by the ILWU or Local 8.”
After ICTSI left, the Port of Portland and BNSF Railway started using Terminal 6 as an inland rail intermodal terminal, shuttling containers to and from container terminals at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, which are operate together as the Northwest Seaport Alliance. As a multipurpose facility, Terminal 6 is also used to load and discharge automobiles as well as breakbulk and project cargo.
Ken O’Hollaren, marine marketing director at the Port of Portland, said the intermodal rail service to Seattle and Tacoma — which is offered by Hyundai Merchant Marine, COSCO Shipping, and CMA CGM and its APL subsidiary — will continue.
O’Hollaren said the size of the ships deployed by SM Line means they will have no problems navigating the 43-foot channel along the Columbia River or being worked at Terminal 6.
He also said the Port of Portland would encourage the revival of container on barge service along the Columbia River. In the past, those services had moved containers from as far inland as Lewiston, Idaho.
“We look forward to this new service in Portland, which will expand our trans-Pacific service coverage and better connect SM Line with customers in the region,” said Kee Hoon Park, CEO of SM Line, in a statement.
SM Line launched in 2017 and also operates a service between China, Korea and the Port of Long Beach.