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Gulf Coast ports see record container volumes in 2022

Houston, Mobile hit all-time container volume highs; Corpus Christi exports more crude oil

Port Houston saw a 14% year-over-year increase in total twenty-foot equivalent units in 2022, bolstered by imports of steel, autos and bagged goods. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Ports in both Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, along with the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Mobile, Alabama, saw increased volumes in 2022 as imports of steel, automotive parts, and lumber and plywood continued to flood into the country and demand for exports of U.S. petroleum and crude oil remained strong.

Port Houston sets annual record with 3.97 million TEUs 

Port Houston set a container volume record in 2022 by moving 3.97 million twenty-foot equivalent units, its highest total ever recorded and a 14% year-over-year (y/y) increase compared to 2021.

The port also set an annual tonnage record during the year, reaching 55.1 million short tons. That’s a 22% y/y increase compared to 2021.

Steel imports — including line and standard pipes, oil country goods, heavy structural shapes, and wire rods — increased 49% y/y to 5.2 million tons in 2022. It was the biggest year for steel import tonnage at the port in more than five years.

Auto import units ended the year up 7% compared to 2021. Bagged goods imports were up 50%.

General imports increased 45% y/y in 2022 to 9.3 million tons, while container imports increased 15% to 18 million tons.


“The volumes we’ve experienced this year at Port Houston have been incredible,” Roger Guenther, Port Houston’s executive director, said in a statement. “The record growth seen over the last couple of years has been supported by continued investments in Port Houston terminals.”

While the port reported double-digit growth at its Bayport and Barbours Cut container terminals from January through November, in December container volumes fell 12% y/y to 292,027 TEUs.

Full import containers were down 18% y/y in December to 132,055 TEUs; loaded container imports decreased 16% to 142,674. 

Ship calls for 2022 were up 6% y/y in 2022 to 8,320. Barges calling Port Houston were up 5% to 3,709.

During December, ship calls rose 3% y/y to 694 vessels, while barges calling at the port fell 14% to 261.

Port of Mobile sets container cargo record 

The Port of Mobile, Alabama, reported its busiest year ever for container cargo with 563,191 TEUs.

The record was 11% higher than total container volumes in 2021. Intermodal rail volumes were 142% higher y/y compared to 2021, according to a news release.

In addition to intermodal shipments, dry and refrigerated containers posted strong gains for the year, officials said.

“These numbers reflect shippers’ confidence in Alabama’s port, and Mobile has consistently offered supply chain stability,” John C. Driscoll, Alabama Port Authority director and CEO, said in a statement.

The port’s container terminal handled a record 312 vessels, an increase of 75 vessels from 2021.

“With proven fluidity, the Port of Mobile continues to attract new routes, creating more direct services from the Far East to Mobile and enhancing our gateway’s connection to growing global markets,” Chief Commercial Officer Beth Branch said in a statement.

Port of New Orleans reports 20% increase in breakbulk volumes in 2022

Boosted by shipments of steel, natural rubber, plywood and frozen poultry, the Port of New Orleans saw a 20% y/y rise in breakbulk volumes compared to 2021, reaching 2.3 million tons.

The port also handled 264 vessel calls in calendar year 2022, a 14% y/y increase compared to 2021.

For the month of December, the port recorded 31,955 TEUs and 63,514 tons of breakbulk cargo.

During 2022, the Port of New Orleans handled 430,000 TEUs, a 12% decrease from 2021.

Officials said the main reasons for the decrease was that the market was skewed towards container imports during the first half of the year, causing congestion across most large U.S. ports.

The flood of imports “threw off vessel schedules resulting in a higher number of omissions for export dominant ports like [the Port of New Orleans],” port spokeswoman Kimberly Curth told FreightWaves. “Export demand was also weak in 2022, but is recovering and we expect a stronger 2023 now that the market has shifted to favor exports more.”

The Port of New Orleans handled 2.3 million tons of breakbulk cargo in 2022, including steel, natural rubber, plywood and frozen poultry. (Photo: Port of New Orleans)

Port of Corpus Christi sees strong gains in exports of crude oil, petroleum products

The Port of Corpus Christi saw a 12% y/y increase in total cargo to 187 million tons in 2022, led by exports of crude oil, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, and imports of dry bulk goods. 

The port handled 112 million tons of crude oil during the year, a 15% increase compared to 2021. Exports of crude oil for 2022 topped 103 million tons, a 14% increase over last year.

Shipments of petroleum totaled 62 million tons during 2022, an 11% y/y increase. Exports of petroleum were at 49 million tons for the year, an 11% increase compared to 2021.

The port also exported 16 million tons of liquified natural gas in 2022, a 4% increase from 2021.

The Port of Corpus Christi handled 8 million tons of dry bulk goods in 2022, a 21% increase compared to the previous year. Dry bulk imports for 2022 totaled 5.2 million tons, an 18% increase compared to 2021.

For December, the port handled 16.7 million tons of cargo, an 8% increase compared to the same year-ago period. 

Crude oil exports in December totaled 10.1 million tons, an 18% increase from the same month a year earlier. Exports of petroleum were 5 million tons for the month, a 4% decrease from December 2021.

The port had 7,753 ship and barge calls in 2022, a 13% y/y increase from 2021. For December, Corpus Christi handled 672 vessels, a 19% y/y increase.

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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]