SCHUBERT QUESTIONS TREND OF LARGER CONTAINERSHIPS
U.S. Maritime Administrator William G. Schubert believes the cost-cutting benefits from adding larger ships to the liner trades may have “run its course.”
“The benefits of size may diminish as ships get bigger and the collateral landside costs increase,” Schubert told a group of shipping executives at the National Industrial Transportation League’s meeting in Monterey, Calif. on May 17. “With a new trend towards smaller tankers already underway, here’s a question for us to consider — should bulk carriers and containerships stabilize in size or be eclipsed by megaships?”
The U.S. Transportation Department’s Marine Transportation System initiative, which is overseen by MarAd, is attempting to address these questions. The initiative found that congestion in the country’s seaports continues to increase, and the problem will likely become further complicated by the call for increased security in the container shipping business.
“The challenge facing all of us — service providers, users and government — is how to address these twin goals of efficiency and security simultaneously,” Schubert said.
“If anything, the pace of growth will not only continue but accelerate,” he added. “Over 2 billion tons of goods produced and consumed in the United States move through our nation’s ports and waterways each year, and we expect a further doubling of cargo trade volume over the next 20 years.”
The MTS initiative hopes to provide a framework to respond to this rapid trade growth and related issues, such as congestion. “The breadth and scope of the MTS is spectacular,” Schubert said.
The initiative’s coverage includes a review of about 1,000 harbor channels and 25,000 miles of inland, intercoastal and coastal waterways in the United States which serve more than 300 ports.
So far, the MTS initiative has considered a number of maritime transportation improvements, such as short-sea shipping to relieve road and rail congestion, additional funding to maintain and improve inland waterway transport, increased dredging funds, and expansion of regional road and rail intermodal connectors.
Some of these ideas are embodied in the recent development of the $2.4-billion Alameda Corridor project. The corridor was opened for business in April to relieve rail congestion from the southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“We believe this investment was smart and necessary since about one-quarter of all U.S. waterborne international trade depends on the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to reach market,” Schubert said. “I would conclude this topic by simply raising this question for all of us to ponder — how can we replicate successes like Alameda Corridor in other areas of the country that also face serious congestion issues?”