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Steel, plywood imports boost Gulf Coast ports’ February cargo volumes

Port Houston sees 167% increase in steel cargo; Port of Corpus Christi reports 95% jump in petroleum exports

In the first two months of 2022, container volume at Port Houston totaled 594,826 twenty-foot-equivalent units, an increase of 31% year-to-date. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Gulf Coast ports reported increased cargo volumes in February as imports of steel, plywood and dry bulk goods continued to flood into the country, and demand for exports of U.S. petroleum and crude oil remained strong.

Port Houston sees 167% increase in steel cargo imports 

Port Houston handled 469,396 tons of steel cargo imports in February, a 167% year-over-year increase.

“Our operational activities reflect what is continuing to be a tremendously active flow of cargo across our docks at Port Houston,” Roger Guenther, Port Houston’s executive director, said during the port’s monthly meeting March 21. “We’re seeing substantial demand for our multipurpose facilities, as well as our general cargo and break bulk facilities.”

Total container import tonnage increased 67% year-over-year to 2.4 million in February and was down 6% compared to January.

Guenther said steel cargo for March is already near half a million tons, which continues to be “a positive sign for the energy sector.”


Exports of steel from Port Houston decreased 87% year-over-year in February to 21,992 tons.

Total export tonnage in February increased 5% year-over-year to 2.1 million and was down 10% compared to January. 

Container volume in February totaled 271,399 twenty-foot equivalent units, a 37% year-over-year increase.

Container volume in February was down 16% compared to January, when Port Houston recorded 323,427 TEUs.

In the first two months of 2022, container volume at Port Houston totaled 594,826 TEUs, an increase of 31% year-to-date.

“The demand on the container trade side at the port continues to be through the roof at a record level,” Guenther said.

The port handled 4,737 TEUs in empty import containers during February, down 23% year-over-year. Exports of empty containers jumped 226% year-over-year in February to 73,181 TEUs.

“Container loads are up, which means the empty container volume is up tremendously,” Guenther said.

“There are a lot of empty containers going back to Asia to be filled with imported goods, because the demand continues to be so high, to return [to the U.S.] as retail goods. This trend is expected to continue from what we hear from our shippers and ocean carriers, at least through the end of this year.”

Vessel calls for February increased about 38% year-over-year to 619 and were down 11% from January. Barges calling on Port Houston were up 47% year-over-year to 368 and decreased 8% from January.

In response to increasing cargo volumes, Guenther said the port will open additional gates at the Barbours Cut Container Terminal. Other measures are also being implemented to reduce long dwell on containers.

“Starting in March we are waiving dockage for ships waiting at anchor that have a berth and are just waiting for gang assignments,” Guenther said. “This will accelerate the working of vessels to push cargo through the system quicker.”

Port of New Orleans sees increase in break bulk, but cargo volumes decline 

Port of New Orleans break bulk cargo recorded a 78% year-over-year increase in February to 191,742 tons, buoyed by imports of steel, natural rubber and plywood.

However, container volume declined 56% year-over-year in February to 28,831 TEUs.

The port handled 10,428 Class I railcar switches in February, a 7% year-over-year increase. The port handles switching operations for the six Class I railroads that operate in New Orleans: BNSF Railway, CN, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

Port of Corpus Christi records strong exports of petroleum, crude oil

The Port of Corpus Christi in South Texas moved almost 13 million tons of cargo in February, a 30% year-over-year increase from the same month in 2021.

Shipments of petroleum totaled 4.8 million tons during February, a 71% year-over-year increase. Exports of petroleum totaled 3.9 million tons for the month, a 95% increase from the same month last year.

The port also handled 7.3 million tons of crude oil during February, a 22% increase compared to the same year-ago period. Exports of crude oil for the month topped 6.7 million tons, a 20% increase from the same period last year.

The Port of Corpus Christi had 517 ship calls in February, a 14% year-over-year increase from 2021.

Watch: FreightWaves’ shipper update for March 29.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]