Hanjin service preserves Japan exports for Pacific Northwest growers
Exporters who depend on the Port of Portland are key beneficiaries of Hanjin Shipping’s decision to reshuffle its transpacific services to reduce disruption caused by port delays at the Port of Long Beach.
The Korean line said Thursday it would substitute larger ships serving Long Beach and Oakland with smaller ones currently calling ports in the Pacific Northwest.
Hanjin Shipping will add a stop in Japan to its other Asian destinations, in addition to increasing the size of ships on its transpacific service from 4,024 TEUs to 5,500 TEUs, to help sustain container traffic at the Port of Portland.
The decision to increase import and export capacity comes as welcome news for Portland, which is struggling to replace business lost when Hyundai Merchant Marine and “K” Line decided to discontinue service. “K” Line will stop calling Portland in December.
Japan is a major importer of U.S. agricultural products. Adding a Tokyo port of call is especially critical for agricultural exporters, paper producers and lumber interests who relied on the other ocean carriers for access to the Japanese market and were faced with losing direct container service to Japan through Portland. More than 50 percent of containerized cargo exported from Portland is sent to Japan, according to port officials.
Retaining Japan as an export market also means the barge service that transports much of the produce down the Columbia River for transloading in Portland will continue, said spokesman Eric Hedaa.
A strong factor in Hanjin’s decision to upgrade service to Portland was the commitment to higher import levels from Kroger grocery chain subsidiary Fred Meyer. One reason cited by carriers for leaving Portland is its imbalance between less lucrative export shipments and fewer imports. Fred Meyer has been a Hanjin customer for many years and Kroger also imports some merchandise through Portland and rails it to Tennessee for distribution in the Southeast.
“The decision was made easier with Fred Meyer’s commitment to our service, as well as recent progress on the Columbia River channel deepening project and the Port’s decision to move forward with a new post-Panamax crane and berth improvements,” Jeff McEwen, Hanjin’s regional manager, said in a statement.
Portland is at a disadvantage compared to coastal ports because it takes ships at least eight additional hours of sailing time to reach and the Columbia River is not deep enough to handle larger container vessels when they are fully loaded. A $140 million Columbia River dredging project to increase the depth of the river from 40 to 43 feet is expected to begin next year.
Beginning Nov. 18 Hanjin will use a 12-ship string on the following route: Port Kelang, Yantian, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Busan, Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. The Tokyo stop was made possible by dropping a port call in Taiwan, Hedaa said.