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Gulf Coast ports report ups and downs in 2021

Total cargo volume down in New Orleans, up in Houston and record level in Corpus Christi

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

While ports on the West and East coasts are reporting record years, cargo volume was down more than 20% at the Port of New Orleans

Janine Mansour, Port NOLA’s commercial director, said the Gulf Coast gateway continues to be affected by global supply chain disruptions.

“Container volume for 2021 was down 15% year-over-year,” Mansour said during a port commission meeting Thursday. “On the container export side, we were down 12%. However, when we look at the Gulf Coast port comparison, where we stand … in terms of exports with Houston, Mobile, Tampa, the Gulf market is actually down as much as 80%. We’re happy to see that our export performance is actually stronger than the U.S. Gulf average.”

Through the end of December, fiscal-year total cargo volume was down 21% to 216,239 twenty-foot equivalent units. Port NOLA’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. 

For calendar year 2021, Port NOLA totaled 488,199 TEUS, a 14.8% decline compared to 572,853 TEUs in 2020.

However, breakbulk and bulk cargo container shipments were up 125% to 1.2 million tons for fiscal year 2022 year-to-date compared to the same period in 2021. Steel, natural rubber, plywood and project cargo shipments led the way, Mansour said.

Port NOLA moved 2.4 million short tons last year in comparison to 1.7 million short tons in 2020.

“With difficulty in securing container equipment globally, containers and container importers across several commodities are looking to breakbulk, which really makes New Orleans much more attractive given that breakbulk is such a strength for us,” Mansour said.

In the fiscal year through December, Port NOLA handled 61,461 Class I railcar switches, a 1.2% year-over-year increase. 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.

“Class I switching continues to stay at over 10,000 cars per month,” said Ronald Wendel, Port NOLA’s vice president of finance and administration. “Local switching continues to grow now with almost 1,700 cars in the month of December. Coming out of the COVID months, our local businesses are actually growing again. Car storage continues to remain strong, just under 1,000 average cars per day.”

Watch: FreightWaves’ Greg Miller and shipping analyst Peter Sand discuss what container shipping will look like in the future.

Asia trade and gasoline exports boost Port Houston

While loaded exports in 2021 were down 13% from the previous year, Port Houston still moved 15% more total cargo than it did in 2020.

Port Houston moved a total of 3.45 million TEUs in 2021, a 15% increase from the previous year. Loaded import TEUs rose 26% to 1.63 million TEUs and total steel import and export tonnage increased 50% to 3.36 million tons. Empty export container TEUs rose 163% year-over-year. Empty import container TEUs fell 47%. 

Vessel calls for Port Houston declined 2% year-over-year to 7,886. Barges calling on Port Houston were up 5% to 3,734. 

Port Houston’s trade totaled $154.5 billion during the first 11 months of 2021, an increase of 34% compared to 2020, according to a WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Through the end of November, exports of gasoline/fuels led at $17.5 billion, followed by petroleum at $12.1 billion and crude oil at $11.3 billion. Top imports include gasoline/fuels at $6 billion, crude oil at $5.95 billion and passenger vehicles at $2.26 billion.

Growth in imports from Asia have been a contributor to the increased cargo numbers, officials said. China was the port’s largest trade partner, followed by Mexico and Brazil.

Port Houston recently landed a new direct service to Vietnam. The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) recently announced Houston on the rotation in the company’s Santana trans-Pacific service, which links Vietnam and Central China to the U.S. Gulf and East coasts.

The MSC Santana will call on the Vietnamese port of Haiphong, followed by the Chinese ports of Shanghai and Ningbo before sailing through the Panama Canal to Houston. The service will then make stops in Charleston, South Carolina, and New York before returning to Haiphong.

“MSC’s new service provides much-needed capacity in the trans-Pacific trade for Port Houston’s growing list of beneficial cargo owner customers,” Roger Guenther, Port Houston’s executive

director, said in a statement. “MSC’s Santana service links Houston directly with Vietnam, an important and fast-growing market for our region.” 

Port of Corpus Christi breaks cargo volume records in 2021

The Port of Corpus Christi in South Texas did see record volume, moving 167 million tons of cargo through its waterway during fiscal year 2021 which ended in December, a 4.7% increase over 2020.

The port moved a record 44.3 million tons of cargo during the fourth quarter, besting the prior record set during the second quarter of 2021.

The rise in tonnage was partly driven by an increase in shipments of liquefied natural gas, totaling 15.7 million tons, an 80% increase over the previous year.

“These tonnage numbers are an indication of a continued recovery in the global energy markets,” Sean Strawbridge, CEO of the Port of Corpus Christi, said in a statement.

The Port of Corpus Christi handled 96 million tons of crude oil during 2021, with exports accounting for 87.5 million tons.

The port handled 50 million tons of petroleum, 7 million tons of dry bulk, 4 million tons of bulk grain and 2.4 million tons of chemical products during 2021.  

The port also saw increases in breakbulk cargo totaling 324,202 tons for the fiscal year, including wind energy components, natural gas liquids, as well as refined products such as diesel and motor gasoline. 

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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]