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Gulf Coast ports’ January cargo volumes a mixed bag

Total volumes up in Houston and Corpus Christi, down slightly in New Orleans

Port Houston reported a record 14,000 trucks crossing through its gates in a single day in January. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Port Houston breaks record for daily truck transactions

Port Houston reported a record 14,000 trucks crossing through its gates in a single day in January, boosted by shipments of steel, plywood and dry bulk goods.

“The business coming across our public docks is busier than ever,” Roger Guenther, Port Houston’s executive director, said during the port’s monthly meeting Thursday. “We’re off to a good start in January.”

The previous record for trucks in a single day was just under 13,000 gate transactions in late December.

“Our container business is busy, which brings challenges with containers not dwelling on terminal scales and docks,” Guenther said. “The supply chain is moving forward. In fact, it’s moving faster than ever.”

Total cargo tonnage increased 15% year-over-year in January to 4.8 million compared to 2021. 

The port’s public container terminals currently handle about 24 ship calls a day, with an additional three to six ships usually waiting to get into the facilities, said Jeff Davis, the port’s operations officer. 

“What we have done to accomodate the ships is we started a 6 a.m. new gate hour for our container terminals,” Davis said. 

Previously, the gates for Port Houston’s Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals opened at 7 a.m. The gates close at 7 p.m.

“To work with the labor, we were able to come up with a good program to be able to open at 6 a.m., with the idea to really smooth out some of the hours we have at the terminals,” Davis said.

Trucking capacity is one of the issues that slow down the supply chain at the port, Davis said. Port officials hope adding an extra hour will help the flow of freight.

“Trucking capacity is really in harm’s way right now; we see it at the end of the day when the movement starts tapering off because drivers are reluctant to start a transaction that they are not going to finish [by 7 p.m.],” Davis said. 

Imports were a driving factor for a majority of the growth in January. Total import tonnage was 2.5 million, up 45% year-over-year.

Port Chairman Ric Campo said some analysts predict import volumes into U.S. ports could expand by at least 40% over the next 10 to 12 years.

“When you think about what’s really happening with the supply chain, it really is about flying-high [consumer] demand,” Campo said.

Port Houston moved a total of 323,427 twenty-foot equivalent units in January, a 27% increase from the same year-ago period. Loaded container imports were 158,569 TEUs and loaded container exports were 86,940 TEUs, representing a year-over-year increase of 30% and a decline of 13%, respectively.

Port of New Orleans sees surge in break bulk, but cargo volume declines

Port of New Orleans’ (Port NOLA) break bulk cargo recorded a 235% year-over-year increase in January to 271,665 tons, buoyed by shipments of plywood.

“Port NOLA saw a huge increase in plywood coming in break bulk largely due to the global supply chain challenges and importers turning to break bulk as an alternative to containers,” Jessica Ragusa, Port NOLA spokeswoman, told FreightWaves. “We expect this trend to continue and see strong opportunities to become more of a distribution hub for plywood.”

While break bulk cargo was up during January, Port NOLA handled 38,357 TEUs during the month, a 4.8% year-over-year decline compared to 2021.

Full container imports were up 16% year-over-year in January, and there was a 13% incremental increase in full containers from December 2021 to January 2022.

Port NOLA, like many ports around the world, has seen TEU volumes hampered by a shortage of cargo containers.

Ragusa said many shippers have turned to break bulk shipping solutions at Port NOLA 

due to global container equipment shortages and supply chain issues.

“Port NOLA has the space to offer alternatives to these shippers,” Ragusa said. “We have been specifically working on targeted customer engagement particularly with importers as well as the ocean carriers.”

The port handled 11,008 Class I railcar switches in August, an 8.8% decrease year-over-year. The port handles switching operations for the six Class I railroads that operate in New Orleans: BNSF Railway, CN, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

Port NOLA’s 2021 calendar year closed with break bulk and bulk volumes up 46% from calendar year 2020. The port moved 2.4 million tons of break bulk cargo in 2021 in comparison to 1.7 million in 2020, with commodities ranging from steel, rubber and plywood to project cargo.

Port NOLA handled cargoes of super-sacks of sand, tapioca flour and coffee in 2021.

“Port NOLA actually welcomed its first bulk coffee vessel in December. The last time a bulk coffee vessel was handled at the port was 30 years ago,” Ragusa said.

Port of Corpus Christi’s cargo volume results mixed

The Port of Corpus Christi in South Texas moved 15.2 million tons of cargo in January, a 1% year-over-year increase from the same month in 2021.

Break bulk cargo totaled 23,287 tons during the month, a 54% year-over-year increase. Shipments of dry bulk, bulk grain and liquid bulk declined 8%, 34% and 60%, respectively.

Shipments of chemicals totaled 194,135 tons in January, a 6.5% year-over-year decline.

Shipments of petroleum totaled 5.1 million tons during January, an 8.4% year-over-year increase. The port also handled 8.9 million tons of crude oil during January, a 0.2% increase compared to the same year-ago period.

The Port of Corpus Christi had 604 ship calls in January, a 4% year-over-year decline from 2021.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]