The Port of Virginia said that as a result of a coronavirus-driven reduction of import volumes, it will cease container operations at Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT) beginning May 4.
Virginia Port Authority spokesman Joe Harris said employees, vessel services and containers moving across PMT will be integrated into the operations at Virginia International Gateway (VIG) and Norfolk International Terminals (NIT).
“This is one of many cost-saving measures being taken at The Port of Virginia,” Harris said.
The Port of Virginia’s March cargo volumes were down nearly 9% year-over-year.
Harris said PMT “is a legacy facility, so it is not as modern” as VIG and NIT. It had been used for overflow from the other terminals during the port’s $800 million expansion project.
“The expansion project is nearing its end and the need to conduct container operations at PMT is not nearly as important to the success of the project as it was two years ago during the peak of construction. Our decision is also supported by the fact that we do not have the container volume at PMT to justify continuing operations there,” Harris said.
John F. Reinhart, chief executive officer and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, said in a statement earlier this month, “The lack of demand driven by COVID-19 has resulted in ocean carriers reducing their network sailings by 20% for the second quarter of 2020 and we know our volume will remain weaker during this period.”
For the third consecutive month, the number of empty containers for export moved through the terminals fell. In March, empty exports fell nearly 37%, or 15,365 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
“One of the effects of this virus on trade is a decreased demand for empty containers,” Reinhart said. “This will change and when it does, it will indicate more production and result in increasing volumes. There is always a normal gap between a restart of manufacturing and receipt of goods, but what we are seeing is the pipeline that brings cargo to the U.S. beginning to be slowly refilled.”
Harris said container operations at PMT could be restarted if needed with minimal effort. “Our long-term strategic plan outlines that PMT’s focus going forward will be to handle roll-on/roll-off cargo, heavy lift, breakbulk, project cargo, etc.”
He noted that a lease agreement signed in January with Ørsted indicates “one of the most promising areas of business for PMT will be in serving as a load center for the U.S. East Coast’s burgeoning offshore wind industry.”
Ørsted is a Danish power company that says it’s the largest offshore wind developer in the United States. It is involved in offshore wind projects in Virginia as well as Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York.