The U.S. Gulf Coast port is looking to balance out its container import/export imbalance, and leverage its intermodal connections.
After tremendous growth and success over the last decade, the Port of New Orleans is looking to the future. The port handled a record 490,526 TEUs of containerized cargo in 2014 and a combined 8.37 million tons of total cargo, the most since 2000.
And according to Port Director Brandy Christian, 2017 and beyond will present ample opportunity for the port and the entire U.S. Gulf Coast region.
Christian, who took the helm as president and CEO of the Louisiana port on Jan. 1, 2017, said in a phone interview with American Shipper one of her main focuses is the development of an updated long-term master plan for port operations. The last master plan was focused almost entirely on rebuilding infrastructure and relationships with cruise and cargo carriers after Hurricane Katrina.
Although a first draft is not expected until this summer at the earliest and will be subject to change based on market projections and input from industry and the public, the Port NOLA 2025 Master Plan aims to position the port as the “premier Gulf Coast cargo hub,” according to information on its website. The primary goals of the plan are to increase operational efficiency and cargo capacity via strategic infrastructure investments, capitalize on the unique geography and history of the New Orleans area, and develop sustainable environmental and economic practices.
Christian said New Orleans is currently in a good position with respect to all three of its primary lines of business: cargo, cruise and a growing industrial real estate portfolio.
With regard to cargo operations, she said the port will focus on boosting both its breakbulk and container operations in the near future.
In the past, container business at New Orleans has been weighted heavily towards exports, so the port is trying to boost the import side, whereas in breakbulk the situation is reversed.
In order to compensate for the container import/export imbalance, the port sources empty containers via its container-on-barge service, which operates between Baton Rouge, La. and New Orleans.
Common container exports from the port include plastics and resins, along with frozen poultry and other meats, and the industry outlook remains positive for both categories, a spokeswoman from the port told American Shipper. On the container import side, coffee is one of the port’s biggest commodities.
Major breakbulk imports include iron, steel and natural rubber, but rubber is being increasingly containerized, the spokeswoman said.
According to ocean carrier schedule and capacity database BlueWater Reporting, the Port of New Orleans is frequented by 17 direct region-to-region liner services. Eleven of these services deploy fully cellular containerships, while the remaining six deploy multi-purpose vessels. These figures are likely to change in the near future, however, as the four major carrier alliances become three and restructure their service networks in April.
By comparison, the Port of Houston is called by 41 liner services – 17 fully cellular container services, 16 multi-purpose, four pure car/truck carrier or roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro), two container/ro-ro (ConRo), and two open hatch services—and smaller Gulf Coast neighbor Mobile is called by nine such loops – five fully cellular container services, two multi-purpose and two open hatch.
The largest containerships making regular stops at any of these three ports serve on the 2M Alliance’s TA3/NEUATL3, which connects North Europe with the U.S. Southeast and Gulf, as well as Mexico and the Bahamas. The service, which calls the ports of New Orleans and Mobile, but not Houston, has an average vessel capacity of 7,119 TEUs.
Looking ahead, the Port of New Orleans has plans to leverage its connections with all six U.S. Class I railroads to boost cargo service to midwestern cities like Chicago and St. Louis that are home to huge distribution hubs, Christian explained.
To those ends, the Port of New Orleans in February entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Missouri-Illinois Bi-State Development Agency’s newly launched public-private partnership, the St. Louis Regional Freightway, to grow trade and strengthen business relationships between the two regions.
“This agreement, and the collaborative partnership it is founded on, will go a long way toward helping coordinate the Port of New Orleans’ supply chain with our supply chain and enhancing the St. Louis region’s ability to move freight up and down the Mississippi River for the entire nation,” St. Louis Regional Freightway Executive Director Mary C. Lamie said.
“We now have a framework to work more closely together to generate new business activity that will help accelerate the present level of economic growth by increasing revenues to the Port of New Orleans and optimizing the St. Louis region’s freight network.”