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Container traffic begins growing at Port of Tacoma

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
July 24, 2012 12:43 pm

In what is likely at harbinger of busier times, container handling volumes rose nearly 10 percent in June at the Port of Tacoma.

The cargo increases were driven by a surge in imports — an increase of some 13,000 container units over June last year.

That increase will likely be dwarfed by container handling increases this month as three shipping lines move their Puget Sound port of call from the Port of Seattle to Tacoma.

Those shipping lines have formed a partnership called the Grand Alliance that pools the three companies ships on transPacific routes between Asia and the North American West Coast.

Those shipping lines, OOCL, Hanjin and Hapag-Lloyd, are now calling on the Port of Tacoma’s Washington United Terminal instead of Seattle’s Terminal 18.

Meanwhile, the Port of Seattle reported a June container handling increase of 4.9 percent. That increase is likely to reverse in July as alliance shifts all its operations to Tacoma.

Ironically, three new container cranes arrived in Elliot Bay aboard a heavy lift ship for installation at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 18 this week. The cranes are able to service the largest containerships now under construction.

The other positive news of note for the Port of Tacoma is the near doubling of its breakbulk cargo business in the year’s first half. Breakbulk cargoes are those that are too large or awkwardly shaped to fit inside standard shipping containers. Typical breakbulk cargo includes agricultural and construction equipment and production machinery.

Demand for mining and farming equipment overseas has driven much of that higher demand, said the port.

Also showing growth during 2012′s first six months were auto imports, up 21.3 percent and gypsum imports, up 115.7 percent.

On the negative side, grain exports fell by 9.8 percent in the first half and log exports fell by 43.7 percent.

Jerry Ashby, president of TPT U.S., the port’s largest log export customer, said business has been steady as demand for logs from Asian customers continues.

“The business has been fairly consistent,” he said. Chinese demand for logs sagged a bit during the early months of 2012, but since has picked up again.

Ashby speculated the port’s raw log export volume numbers may be off for the year, because some log exporters are shipping logs in containers instead of in bulk in log ships.

The port’s log business, which had disappeared entirely after 2005, revived three years ago as the port sought to diversify its cargo base beyond containers.

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