Shooting for the stars

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The Port of Baltimore looks to further consolidate its position as being the number one port for automobile imports and exports as it augments capacity to handle greater cargo volumes. Lionel Alva 

The Port of Baltimore has been assuming greater significance for the US with regard to international trade. It holds the coveted position of being the number one port for automobile imports and exports. With key developments such as the expansion of the Panama Canal to be completed in 2015, Baltimore and other Atlantic coastal ports will be able to receive the larger cargo-carriers that previously were limited to the Pacific Coast. Baltimore is one of only two Eastern US ports with a 50-foot (15.2 meters) shipping channel and a 50-foot container berth, allowing it to accommodate some of the largest container ships in the world. The port’s cargo business purposely encompasses a variety of commodity markets, and the port’s competitive position is somewhat different in each. The containerised cargo market is the largest of the general cargo categories, and is the most challenging for Baltimore. In other markets, like automobiles, roll-on/roll-of (ro/ro) cargo, and forest products, port selection is more often determined by the cargo interests — manufacturers, importers, or distributors — rather than by the shipping lines. For these companies, factors where Baltimore has more advantages include proximity to inland markets, efficient highway and railroad connections, damage-free cargo handling and specialised terminal facilities. "The Port of Baltimore is one of Maryland’s most important economic assets and it will play an integral role in our efforts to help grow the state’s economy. My administration is focused on building Maryland’s reputation as a place that’s open for business and the port can play a pivotal role in spreading this message while also delivering real economic growth,” asserts Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland. Of all US ports, Baltimore is the number one in handling autos, light trucks, farm and construction machinery; and imported forest products, aluminum, and sugar. The port is second in coal exports. 70 percent of all international cargo tonnes move through the Port of Baltimore in the form of bulk cargo. Foreign and domestic cargo totaled 9.7 million tonnes in 2014. Much of that increase was driven by the record number of containers and automobiles passing through the Maryland Port Authority’s terminals. When it comes to exports, India is among its top trading partner with exports for the year 2014 amounting to about 3.2 million tonnes and imports at 128, 962 tonnes while countries like Netherlands, South Korea and Chile following in closely. With automobiles and light trucks, equipment ranging from tractors and agricultural vehicles to trucks and wheeled cranes makes Baltimore the number one port on the East Coast for handling ro/ro. In fact, after recent infrastructure additions, Baltimore is only one of the two ports on the East Coast that has the ability to handle ships carrying 10,000 TEUs. "We do more moves per hour compared to other East Coast ports, which allows the ships to hit the dock and get off the dock as quickly as possible. The ship owners want the ships at sea. They don't want them sitting around at port," asserted James J White, executive director, Maryland Port Administration. To consolidate its position as the top US ro/ro cargo, Baltimore recently signed a 20-year, 141-acre agreement to serve as the East Coast hub for the largest ro/ro carrier in the world, Baltimore’s proximity to the Midwest’s major farm and construction equipment manufacturers has helped the port become the leading US port for the export of combines, tractors and hay balers, in addition to importing excavators and backhoes. Furthermore, two class one railroads, Norfolk Southern and CSX move ro/ro cargo efficiently into Baltimore from all major US manufacturing facilities. The Port of Baltimore is comprised of public marine terminals owned by the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) and private marine terminals. Domestic container cargo using the MPA’s public terminals totaled 586,500 tonnes in 2014 and is not included in the general foreign cargo tonnage numbers. The Fairfield area of the port includes four specialised terminals for handling and processing autos, light trucks and similar ro/ro cargo. Currently, portions of the port are leased to Daimler-Chrysler (Mercedes-Benz) and Auto Warehousing Corporation (AWC). These specialised terminals process autos and light trucks. Typically, this includes accessorising, minor repair operations and final dealership preparation. The terminal is adjacent to a public berth, also owned by MPA. A vessel discharging new vehicles can berth within a few hundred feet of the facility. A new berth officially opened at the Port of Baltimore that could drive more automobile shipping to the city. The port opened the $22 million berth at its Masonville / Fairfield Marine Terminal that will be used to load and unload cars and trucks to and from the US. It supplants another berth that had been operating for more than 70 years. The new berth is larger and stronger than the existing one. These improvements are important as cargo ships grow in size.

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