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North Atlantic ports expanding for larger vessels

Average size of containerships transiting the Panama Canal is up 5.4 percent from last August.

   North America’s East Coast ports have been undertaking projects to handle larger containerships since before the expanded Panama Canal opened in June 2016, and despite headwinds from global trade tensions, port expansion plans remain on track.
   The largest vessels routinely utilizing the Panama Canal are three, 14,414-TEU CMA CGM-operated vessels, the CMA CGM J. Adams, CMA CGM J. Madison and CMA CGM T. Roosevelt.
   As of August, the average containership size transiting the Panama Canal was 6,846 TEUs, up 5.4 percent from a year earlier and up 48.6 percent from three years earlier, as illustrated in the chart below, which was constructed using data from BlueWater Reporting.

   New, larger vessels of over 20,000 TEUs continue to be injected on the Asia-Europe trade, creating a cascading effect of containerships of up to around 14,000 TEUs onto the Asia-East Coast North America trade. As of August, 52 containerships of 15,000 TEUs or more were on order, according to data from Clarksons Research’s Container Intelligence Monthly. 

Deeper And Wider. Upgrades are under way at North Atlantic ports to accommodate larger containerships.

   The Port of Virginia, which offers 50-foot channels inbound and outbound, has federal approval to begin widening the commercial shipping channels serving Norfolk Harbor and deepening them to 55 feet.
   The preliminary engineering and design phase is expected to take about 18 months to complete and has a construction start target of January 2020, Joe Harris, the Port of Virginia senior director of communications, told American Shipper in late August.
   The port also is doing expansion work at Virginia International Gateway (VIG) and Norfolk International Terminals (NIT) to handle more container capacity. Harris said the projects at these terminals are on budget and on schedule. 
   Upgrades at VIG are expected to be completed around June 2019, depending on weather and other factors, Harris explained. 
   “At VIG, all 26 of the new rail-mounted gantry cranes (RMGs) have been delivered and we are continuing to test the equipment and bring it into service,” Harris said. “The last stack comes online at VIG in January 2019, but all others will be operational by October 2018.
   “The upgrade to the N4 terminal operating system is complete and we are using the trucker reservation system to spread out the volume of trucks moving into the terminal more equally throughout the day,” he said.
   “The first phase of the expanded rail yard is operational, phase two work is scheduled for completion in June 2019 and the expansion of the truck gate is complete,” said Harris, adding that the new lanes were expected to have full functionality by late September. “The progress on the berth construction is continuing and we are looking at a mid-to-late October completion there. The four new ship-to-shore cranes are in the final stages of fabrication (in China) and are scheduled for delivery here in early 2019.”

Increasing Capacity. Meanwhile, expansion at NIT is expected to be completed in June 2020.
   Delivery of the terminal’s 60 RMGs is under way and the first new stack yard capacity at NIT came online in late September, Harris said. Starting in January, new stacks will come online every seven to eight weeks. 
   In May, the terminal’s N4 terminal operating system was upgraded to the most recent version and the trucker reservation system is in use at the terminal as well, Harris added.
   In total, from start to finish, the projects at VIG and NIT will collectively increase the port’s overall annual container handling capacity by 40 percent, or 1 million container lifts, when work at both terminals is complete. 
   The Port of Baltimore ranks No. 1 for automobiles and light trucks, roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) heavy farm and construction machinery, and imported sugar and second for exported coal.
   In July, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Public Works approved a contract to complete the fill-in of a wet basin at the port’s Fairfield Marine Terminal. The project was being carried out to create 7 acres of cargo storage area to provide more land for the port’s surging volumes of automobile and ro-ro cargo.
   In 2017, the port’s public and private automobile terminals had a record year, collectively handling 807,194 cars and light trucks and representing the seventh consecutive year that Maryland had handled more cars and light trucks than any other U.S. port, the port said.

Looking Ahead. A Maryland Port Administration spokesperson told American Shipper in August that the wet basin at the terminal had been filled in. “It is now being stabilized and going through final development steps,” the spokesperson said. “We anticipate it being operational by next summer.”
   At the Dundalk Marine Terminal, a mixed-use facility that handles automobiles, high and heavy ro-ro cargo, breakbulk and forest products, a berth renovation and deepening project is under way. “The work to deepen the berths at Dundalk Marine Terminal will start in 2019,” the spokesperson said. “Berths that we are rehabbing will be deepened to 50 feet.”
   In Delaware, the Port of Wilmington, which is known as the nation’s top gateway for fresh fruit imports, is on the verge of being privatized. A port spokesperson told American Shipper in early September that privatization is “imminent,” with the deal expected to be finalized around Oct. 1.
   The state will still own the port, but GT USA Wilmington LLC, a subsidiary of port operator Gulftainer, will operate and develop the port through a 50-year concession agreement. 
   GT USA Wilmington LLC is expected to grow volume and increase jobs by making significant financial investments, including the construction of a container terminal on land the port previously purchased just northward. 
   The Port of Philadelphia, which rebranded itself as PhilaPort last year, announced in June it was receiving a $25.5 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to complete the second phase of a multiphase improvement plan at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.
   “The investment will add capacity to modernize the terminal, including a deeper berth (45 feet) to match the depth of the Delaware River’s main channel; two crane conversions from diesel to electric; and demolition and relocation/construction of a new temperature-controlled warehouse,” the port said.
   PhilaPort was one of two seaports to be granted INFRA funding, the other being PortMiami, which was granted $7 million for the replacement of two terminal gates with expanded and automated truck gates.
   The funding followed Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in November 2016 announcing a $300 million comprehensive capital investment program at the port for infrastructure, warehousing and equipment. This initiative started in 2017 and is expected to continue through 2020.

Game Changer. At the Port of New York and New Jersey, the busiest port on the U.S. East Coast, the biggest game changer in recent years was increasing the clearance capacity of the Bayonne Bridge between New Jersey and Staten Island. The project was completed in June 2017 and increased clearance capacity from 151 feet and a maximum vessel size of 9,800 TEUs to 215 feet and a maximum vessel size of 18,000 TEUs.
   Once the project was completed, vessels up to 18,000 TEUs were able to sail beneath the bridge to call APM Terminals and Maher Terminals in Elizabeth, N.J.; the Port Newark Container Terminal in Newark, N.J.; and the GCT New York terminal on Staten Island in New York.
   For the first six months of 2018, the port handled 3.45 million TEUs, a 6.8 percent increase from the corresponding prior year period, largely thanks to the Bayonne Bridge navigational clearance project.
   In addition, the port’s ExpressRail — the port’s ship-to-rail system serving New York and New Jersey marine terminals — handled 315,011 lifts, up 15 percent year-over-year.
   The port anticipates that cargo transported by rail will continue to grow after its newest rail facility, ExpressRail Port Jersey, opens at the end of 2018. ExpressRail Port Jersey will give the port the capacity to handle 1.5 million container lifts per year and eliminate 2.25 million annual truck trips from local highways.
   At Massport’s Port of Boston, the federal and state governments as well as the port authority are collectively investing $850 million to deepen Boston Harbor and modernize Conley Container Terminal, said Samantha Decker, the port’s media relations manager.
   The Boston Harbor dredging project, a $350 million partnership among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state and port to deepen the harbor, began in July and will be completed in about three years, Decker said, adding that $500 million of planned landside investments also are under way. 
   “With the support of a $42 million U.S. DOT FASTLANE Grant and $107.5 million from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Conley Terminal improvements include the construction of two 50-foot berths, three new ship-to-shore cranes, expanded reefer storage and new in-and-out gate facilities,” Decker said.
   Conley Container Terminal currently can handle 8,500-TEU vessels, but the dredging project will allow it to handle vessels up to 12,000 TEUs, according to Massport. The dredging will deepen the outer harbor channel from 40 feet to 51 feet, the main shipping channel from 40 feet to 47 feet and the reserve channel, where Conley Container Terminal is located, from 40 feet to 47 feet. 

Canadian Ports. In Canada, the Port of Halifax also has its sights set on larger containerships. The port is looking to be able to berth two vessels of more than 10,000 TEUs simultaneously at Halterm’s South End Container Terminal.
   The existing pier is 665 meters and a temporary 135-meter pier extension at the terminal will be added to give the port the short-term capacity to allow the port to simultaneously berth two vessels of over 10,000 TEUs, said Lane Farguson, the Halifax Port Authority’s communications adviser. The port is looking to start on this project within the next six months and have it done by 2020. The temporary extension will be covered by the Halifax Port Authority and will cost $30 million Canadian to $35 million Canadian. 
   The Port of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River is looking to develop a container terminal in Contrecoeur, which is about 40 kilometers northeast of Montreal. Construction of the terminal is scheduled to start in 2020, but is conditional on obtaining necessary permits. Commissioning of the terminal is planned for 2023-24, according to the port.
   The port authority said it is currently working with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to gain necessary approvals.

Stacking Up. Data from BlueWater Reporting shows that of these prominent ports, the Port of New York and New Jersey is called by the largest number of fully cellular container services that connect it to other regions outside North America at 37, followed by Port of Norfolk at 28; Port of Halifax at 11; Port of Montreal and the Port of Philadelphia at eight; the Port of Baltimore at seven; and the Port of Wilmington and the Port of Boston at three.

   The Port of New York and New Jersey, as well as the Port of Norfolk, cater to the largest vessels out of these ports, handling ships up to 14,414 TEUs, the largest to pass through the Panama Canal to date.