Port Canaveral, located about halfway down the Atlantic Coast of Florida, this month opened its brand new container terminal. In doing so, however, it became the fourth container-handling port facility on the East Coast of an already crowded state and an even more crowded Southeast U.S. container port market. The ports of Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. both have a firm foothold in the southeastern U.S. container market and have put up record volumes in recent months.
Then there’s the pesky problem of finding an ocean carrier to call at the new facility.
Gulftainer USA, the U.S. division of the United Arab Emirates-based terminal operator, won a 35-year exclusive concession to operate the new terminal last fall, making it the first Middle Eastern company to operate a marine terminal in the United States. Yet it has yet to attract its first liner carrier customer.
Gulftainer’s Group Managing Director Peter Richards told American Shipper in a recent interview that the Port Canaveral terminal would initially target imports destined for Central Florida that currently enter the market through Savannah and Charleston. Industry sources estimate drayage costs from the Savannah and Charleston ports to Central Florida are between $500 and $700 more per container than from Port Canaveral.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has made trade and logistics a centerpiece of his economic plan, convincing the state legislature to commit an estimated $850 million to fund port infrastructure upgrades, including $24.4 million allocated to the Canaveral Port Authority to widen its turning basin and deepen its navigation channel to accommodate larger vessels. This begs the question, however, of whether those funds—not to mention Gulftainer’s investments of time, money and manpower—might have been better spent improving facilities at one of the three existing container ports along Florida’s East Coast.
Port Canaveral operates the second largest cruise port in the United States, but until now has been a relatively minor player in the cargo arena, focusing mostly on bulk commodities such as petroleum, salt and industrial equipment.
Is there really enough cargo volume to support yet another container port on the U.S. South Atlantic coast?
The adjacent chart, built with data from BlueWater Reporting’s North America Port/Terminal Analysis Application, compares total weekly deployed capacity for all direct region-to-region liner services calling at Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Port Everglades or Miami. Port Canaveral, of course, does not appear on the chart because no liner services call there, yet. Container services calling Charleston have a weekly deployed capacity of 136,293 TEUs, while those calling Savannah have a weekly capacity of 170,937 TEUs, and services calling Jacksonville, Everglades and Miami deploy 38,019 TEUs, 49,614 TEUs and 54,091 TEUs, respectively, on a weekly basis.
For the purposes of this discussion, ports along the Florida Gulf Coast and farther north on the East Coast were not included because they serve different geographical markets and receive different services than those examined.
It should also be noted that there is some overlap when discussing weekly deployed capacity to these ports. Of the 84 total various container, roll-on/roll-off and multi-purpose services with assigned container capacity that call at one of Canaveral’s main competitors, 32 of them call at least two of the ports. Four of those loops call three of the competing ports and two services call at Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville and Miami.
Only time will tell if Canaveral can become a successful container port in an already highly competitive market. But one thing is for sure: until it does, industry analysts will continue to question whether those highly sought after transportation infrastructure dollars would have been better invested elsewhere.
Meyer is web editor of American Shipper and a research analyst with BlueWater Reporting. He can be reached by email.
This article was published in the August 2015 issue of American Shipper.