Port of Baltimore prepped for further growth

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Over the years, the Port of Baltimore has grown from being just a port of entry for the state’s tobacco trade with England to a primary global gateway moving goods such as automobiles, tractors, paper, toys, coal, sugar and clothing.

The main artery for shipping commerce in and out of the country, the Port of Baltimore has become a world-class maritime centre handling more international auto tonnage than any other U.S. port. A gateway for auto majors like Ford, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Mercedes, BMW, Land Rover, GM, Suzuki, Porsche, Jaguar, and Nissan, the port handled a record number of cars and trucks in 2013, up 15 percent from the previous year. The increase was due in part to the newly inked contracts with auto manufacturers, including a five-year deal with Mazda announced in August. Also among one of the U.S. leaders in Roll-on/Roll-off cargo, farm and construction machinery and imported forest products, sugar, aluminum and gypsum, and second for exported coal, Baltimore . “Baltimore handled a record 749,000 autos in 2013, keeping it atop the perch as the nation’s leading auto port. Through the first half of 2014, autos at the port were three percent ahead of last year’s pace. The port’s nationally-recognized auto quality program, four on-dock processors and capable labour are all contributing reasons for its success,” said Richard Scher, director of communications, Port of Baltimore. Last year's success came despite a three-day work stoppage in October and labour unrest ever since, which caused some companies to divert business elsewhere. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, in a statement, credited the success to "shrewd infrastructure investments, unique job-creating public-private partnerships, and long-term contracts with major international shipping companies." Baltimore handles all of its cars with a white glove treatment through its quality programme, which brings together manufacturers, labour, auto processors, port officials and others in the supply chain every month to discuss auto handling at the port. This quality program has resulted in lower damage rates and white-glove handling. The port’s new 50-foot deep container berth and four Super Post-Panamax cranes became operational in 2013. Baltimore is now one of the only two U.S. East Coast ports which are able to accommodate some of the world’s largest container ships. Recently, the port was awarded $10 million in federal funding from the TIGER grant program. The funding will go towards creating additional cargo handling capabilities and rail access at the port’s Fairfield Marine Terminal. Under the recently signed WRDDA bill, the port will receive federal funding to maintain and grow its dredging program. “Like many ports, the Port of Baltimore is constantly looking to acquire additional land for its cargo. Another challenge is to continue to make sure that its aggressive dredging program keeps the port’s channels properly and safely dredged,” said Scher. The port had signed a 50-year, $1.3 billion public-private partnership with Ports America Chesapeake in 2009 that allowed it to invest in major new infrastructure — including cranes to work the latest generation of massive container ships — and begin courting more international clientele. Including Baltimore's private terminals, the port moved 30.3 million tonnes of international cargo across its docks in 2013, valued at more than $52 billion. Baltimore’s proximity to the Midwest’s major farm and construction equipment manufacturers has helped the port become the leading U.S. port for roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) cargo. And it’s not just about cargo: even the cruise business at the port is booming, routinely sailing at full capacity. Baltimore offers year-round sailings onboard the Carnival Pride and Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas. “On November 8, 2014, the Port of Baltimore will welcome a single sailing from the Crystal Serenity,” informed Scher. Earlier this year, Governor O’Malley announced the return of Carnival Cruise Lines to the Port of Baltimore. Following the approval in September by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard of Carnival’s plan to reduce ship emissions, the popular cruise line will resume seven-day, year-round cruises onboard the Carnival Pride ship from the Port of Baltimore beginning in March 2015. The vessel will return to Maryland with new air emission reduction technologies and a host of new dining, bar, and entertainment options. Last year more than 212,000 passengers sailed on 90 cruises from the Port of Baltimore. The Port of Baltimore ranks fifth for cruise passengers among East Coast cruise ports, 11th in the U.S. and 20th in the world. Since beginning a year-round cruise schedule in 2009, nearly every cruise that has sailed from the Port of Baltimore has left at full passenger capacity. As far as green initiatives are concerned, the port’s public marine terminals were recently awarded ISO 14001 environmental status. This is as result of programs such as Dray Truck Replacement Program that has seen 80 older trucks replaced with later models, an initiative to replace or retrofit engines in locomotives, tugs, and cargo handling equipment, and aggressive programs to test the emission levels in the water and air around the port. With the proper 50 foot channel and 50 foot berth in place, as well as the four new 400-foot cranes, the Port of Baltimore is poised to be one of the few ports on the East Coast equipped with the infrastructure to facilitate the passing of post-Panamax cargo ships. The next steps for creating growth at the port have begun to fall into place.

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