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Record August hints at turbocharged remainder of 2021: Virginia Port Authority

TEU volumes up 24% year-over-year

The Port of Virginia is a major container port, but wants to diversify business with breakbulk, roll-on/roll-off, and military cargoes. (Photo: Virginia Port Authority)

The Virginia Port Authority anticipates that the volume strength seen in August will persist through the remainder of 2021.

“We are nearing the height of peak season and do not anticipate a let-up before year’s end. Knowing that, we are focusing on remaining agile and fluid in our operations and continuing to invest in new assets that will increase our efficiency,” said Stephen A. Edwards, Virginia Port Authority (VPA) CEO and executive director. 

Indeed, August was a strong month for the Port of Virginia in Norfolk, with the port complex handling 24.1% more volumes than a year ago.

Last month was the busiest August on record and the second most productive month in the port’s history, VPA said Monday. The port handled 307,023 twenty-foot equivalent units, beating the previous record for August set in 2018 by 18.6%.

“Our August volume would have been even stronger but there were some disruptions in the vessel schedule that are pushing some ship calls into September,” Edwards said.

Many of the major data points for the port were higher year-over-year in August. Loaded export TEUs rose 13.2%, to 85,256, while loaded import TEUs increased by 19.3%, to 144,226.

The port handled 172,094 containers in August, an increase of 26.4%. The number of rail containers it handled grew 32.9%, to 57,839; truck containers rose 23%, to 106,458; and barge containers increased 28.3%, to 7,797.

But the Virginia Inland Port handled 3.2% fewer rail containers, with volumes totaling 2,794.

Edwards said the port’s operations model contributes to the port’s growth. In this model, VPA acts as both terminal owner and operator, which helps the port stay agile and responsive when ocean carriers and cargo owners face congestion and delays. Virginia International Terminals, VPA’s private operating company, operates four deep-water, multipurpose cargo terminals as well as two inland terminals at the port complex.

“We own the terminals and our operating company runs them, and this is an important advantage because we are not beholden to multiple economic interests, especially when we need to be flexible in our operations to accommodate our customers and growing cargo volumes,” Edwards said. “The Hampton Roads Chassis Pool [HRCPII] is a great example of the advantages of being an owner-operator. We own and operate HRCP [II] and as a result, we can make decisions and take quick action to ensure we have an ample supply of chassis.”

Edwards continued: “Though this is a very large, diverse port complex, all of the operational decisions are made under one roof by our chief operations officer, Kevin Price. Every day the parts are communicating, working in unison, analyzing need and providing real value to our customers, cargo owners and shippers. The ability to act quickly and provide service and solutions — long- or short-term — is the advantage of the Port of Virginia.”

Meanwhile, new equipment could also help with port operations. The port ordered 18 Kalmar Hybrid Shuttle Carriers in late August for use at the Norfolk International Terminals and the Virginia International Gateway. Their arrival is anticipated for next June. The port also recently received 100 Thermo King gensets to HRCPII. The units mount directly on the chassis, and 80 of the matching chassis are scheduled for delivery to HRCPII in October, VPA said.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.