Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian Port Facilities Heavily Damaged in Earthquake

The main port in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, as well as secondary port facilities along the nearby coast, suffered major damage during Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake.

At least three large piers, two in Port-au-Prince and one in the neighboring seaside community of Carrefour, suffered major structural damage.

The main pier in Port-au-Prince appeared to have collapsed up to the front of dockside warehouses throwing at least one gantry crane into the water. A second long finger pier nearby appeared to have lost 40 percent to 50 percent of its total length. In Carrefour, an earth spit connecting a large dock to the shore disappeared after the earthquake, stranding the pier and apparently severing an oil or bunker fuel line that was now discharging into the small bay.

In addition, containers from the port had fallen into the water and numerous container stacks on the shoreside terminal had fallen over.

The damage was clearly visible in new satellite overlay images available for Google Earth and compared to the pre-earthquake pictures on Google Maps. The new satellite images, taken the day after the earthquake, were coordinated by Google and GeoEye and are available here:

Several vessels from the United States Coast Guard are patrolling the Port-au-Prince bay and conducting further assessments of damage to the port facilities. The Coast Guard is sending at least four additional cutters to the damaged area.

SoCal Ports' Box Volumes Down in 2009, up in December

The Southern California ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles both reported double digit declines in cargo volumes for 2009, despite sizable upticks in cargo volumes for the month of December.

According to calendar year-end numbers released Wednesday, the Port of Long Beach handled 5,067,597 TEUs in 2009, a decline of 21.9 percent compared to 2008. As part of the year-end numbers the port also reported a 20.5 percent decline in loaded inbound boxes for 2009 and a 19.9 percent drop in loaded boxes.

The neighboring Port of Los Angeles ended 2009 with 6,748,994 TEUs handled, a 14 percent decline over 2008 volumes. Loaded inbound box volume also dipped 14.9 percent for the year with loaded outbound box volumes falling 6.4 percent.

The monthly numbers for December, however, were much better for both ports. The Port of Long Beach handled 467,237 TEUs in December, up 8.7 percent compared to December 2008. Loaded inbound box volumes during December rose 13.4 percent to 232,586 TEUs and loaded outbounds also rose 30.9 percent to end the month at 123,084 TEUs.

The Port of Los Angeles reported total box volume for December of 562,989 TEUs, up 0.35 percent over the year-ago period. Loaded inbound box volume ended the month at 283,364 TEUs, down 4.4 percent compared to December 2008. On the other end of the spectrum, loaded outbound box volumes jumped 40.2 percent compared to December 2008 to end the month at 153,836 TEUs.

US Rail Freight Traffic at Lowest Levels in 21 Years

Total railroad carload traffic in 2009 dropped to the lowest level in more than 21 years, according to numbers released by the Association of American Railroads on Wednesday.

The AAR reported that 2009 carload traffic fell 16.1 percent compared to 2008 and down 18.2 percent compared to 2007. The numbers are the lowest since the AAR began tracking total carload traffic in 1988.

The report notes that while traffic for every commodity category was down in 2009 compared with both 2008 and 2007, 12 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw higher carloads in December 2009 than in December 2008.

On the intermodal side, which includes both truck trailers and freight containers moved by rail, the AAR report found that 2009 traffic was down 14.1 percent compared to 2008 and down 17.7 percent compared to 2007. According to the AAR, 2009 marked the lowest intermodal rail numbers since 2002.

“Railroads are happy to have 2009 behind them,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray. “Last year saw declines, most of them quite steep, in every major category of rail carload traffic as well as intermodal. However, we’re seeing signs that the economy is improving. We’re hopeful that 2010 will be a much better year for the economy and for railroads.”

Maersk Names New Global IT Head

Danish ocean carrier Maersk Line announced Wednesday that it has appointed Stephen Fraser as the head of the firm's Group IT business unit.

In his new position, effective Feb. 1, Fraser will coordinate with other Maersk business units "to optimize the IT backbone of the company," according to a Maersk release.

Fraser has been serving as the chief officer in Maersk's North American operations, with overall responsibility for information technology, process and customer service functions. Prior to joining the carrier five years ago, Fraser worked for the Accenture predecessor Anderson Consulting and CP Ships.

Fraser will replace current Group IT head Flemming Steen who assumed the role last February.

Based in Denmark, Maersk Line is a division of the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group.

Vancouver BC Port Volumes Off 14% In 2009

The Canadian Port of Vancouver handled 2,152,462 TEUs in 2009, a 14 percent decline compared to 2008 numbers.

Loaded inbound box volume also fell in 2009, ending the year at 1,007,304 TEUs compared to last year's totals, a drop of 19 percent.

On the up side, loaded outbound containers rose 1 percent in 2009 to end the year at 925,411 TEUs.

Port of Vancouver USA Commission Mulls Adding Two Members

A move by the Washington state Port of Vancouver USA commission president Jerry Oliver to increase the size of the port's governing board from three to five members met with mixed reactions Tuesday from his colleagues.

The three-member panel discussed the possibility of increasing the size of the port board during the board's public meeting, but ultimately took no action on the topic. Officials at the port estimate that adding two additional commissioners to the board could cost the port up to $100,000 a year.

Despite no action being taken, Oliver, who first raised the idea at a board meeting in December 2009, said Tuesday that he would continue to pursue the idea of a board expansion.

From the dais, Commissioner Brian Wolfe said he might consider supporting the idea while Commissioner Nancy Baker said she would oppose it.

Z Tugs on the Bay

By Capt. Jordan May

As the Golden Gate Bridge disappears along with everything else in sight, I activate the automatic foghorn and reduce our speed to four knots. We’ve run right into the typical wall of dense fog that runs east and west along an open stretch of water between the Golden Gate Bridge and Berkley. On days like this, conditions have combined to create a thick river of white mist through this area, known as ‘The Slot’ by local sailors.

Three miles later we emerge back out in the open, just North of Treasure Island, and look back at the seemingly impenetrable white mass we’ve just passed through. We are aboard the Tractor Tug Z-5 and underway from the Richmond Long Wharf, where we just finished assisting an empty petroleum tanker outbound for sea. Our next job is a container ship, inbound from the San Francisco Pilot Station, that we’ll meet between the Delta and Echo towers of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Our sister tug, the Z-4, will be on the ship’s port bow with the Z-5 tethered at the stern.

As we near the Bay Bridge the ship’s pilot establishes communications on the VHF radio and we switch to the working channel that will be used for the next few hours. The pilot directs the Z-5 to attach a line up on the stern and act as brakes for the inbound approach. As the ship clears the bridge we run in close under the transom and send up our headline to the ship’s crew through a center chock on their stern. Once made fast I inform the pilot, then pay out around 300 feet of the Amsteel Blue headline and take the ride into Oakland. After clearing the Bar Channel and entering the Oakland Estuary we receive an order to “back, half” from the pilot. While the ship’s propeller must make enough turns to provide adequate steering force on the rudder, this drag from the tug helps reduce its speed through the water enough to avoid pulling other vessels off the dock face. In a narrow channel like the Oakland Estuary this tremendous suction of water is something the pilot must consider carefully. A ship underway, passing in close quarters to a moored vessel can easily drag enough water outward to part the mooring lines if the speed is over 5 knots.

After slowly transiting the Estuary we near the turning basin and I shorten up close in to the stern. When the ship is stopped and centered in the turning basin the pilot gives the order “Z-5 back, full to port ”. Slowly swinging the tug out to the port side of the transom, I work the engines up to backing full and begin pulling the ship around. Once the pilot has the Z-4 pushing at full ahead on the bow, we start picking up the momentum to spin the 900-foot mass clockwise 180 degrees. Eventually we’re aiming back out the channel and the pilot directs the Z-4 to stop and the Z-5 to take in our headline and shift to the port quarter for docking. After recovering our line I turn the Z-5 and run backwards up the port side of the ship in order to re-attach our headline up on the main deck.

One lesson I learned my first week in Oakland is how this simple act of sending a line back up on the quarter can go badly when running bow-first. Often an ASD tug will run forward alongside the ship and safely get a line up and at speeds exceeding 8 knots. In fact this is preferable since running backwards at higher speeds can push the tug’s stern under. In this case however, the maneuver begins with the ship going from stopped in the water to a state of rapid acceleration. The initial suction created from the ship’s propeller, encountered while coming around the quarter, can be tremendous and tends to pull the tug in under the aft rake of the stern. Unless you are pressing the tug’s bow hard against the ship it is difficult to hold a position alongside while the crew is sending up the line. By running backwards the drives are pulling rather than pushing and the rest of the tug has no choice but to follow. As the tug comes in close to send the line up the bow naturally swings in toward the ship, and can more easily be held in a close and controlled position as the ship continues accelerating and the suction increases. It’s a lot like a horse pulling a wagon. While the wagon can certainly be pushed ahead of a horse it requires a lot from the horse to co-ordinate it. Put the horsepower in front of the wagon and things tend to fall into place on their own.

The extreme rake on some container ships makes the approach a delicate operation for the tug captain. Container ships in general are designed for maximizing speed at sea, with a streamlined hull and enormous flare fore and aft. When the pilot needs a line up under this area it can require the tug to maintain station within inches of the ship while underway. Coordinating the throttles and steering to catch a moving target like this takes some basic operating skill, however that’s not the only requirement. Things gets more difficult while trying to simultaneously operate the pair of z-drive controls, run the bow winch, and tend to the radio with just two hands. Couple this with keeping and eye on the ship, the crew on your deck and other vessel traffic trying to squeeze around the whole operation and you have a plate full.

Once lying alongside and running backwards, the tugs bow is better positioned for the ship’s crew to take the headline up at the port quarter chock. The line is made fast, with the tug running backwards, and it’s much easier to maintain a slack line without leaning on the ship and adversely affecting its steering. While running backward at eight knots can be tricky, the speeds encountered in the Estuary are considerably slower. On approaching the berth the ship’s speed is reduced to just a few knots, and the tug can then swing out to a 90 in order to work.

The Jensen-designed Z tugs were built at the Marco Shipyard in Seattle for Tugz International of Cleveland, Ohio. The tugs are built to Maltese Cross AMS Ice Class C incorporating substantial stringers, ribs and hull plating for a very sturdy vessel. They were originally built for submarine work in Honolulu and this kept several of the Z Tugs busy for the early years with the US Navy. For this type of work rubber fendering was built in place on all points of contact, under the waterline forward and along the chine. On both sides aft are rubber edged Z-Drive guards, which protrude like fins out from the chine above the drive units. This extra rubber is beneficial when working around the bulbous bow of containerships and gives the advantage of being able to land softly in a tight spot right up against the ship or under the stem.

In 2004 the Z3, Z4 and Z5 were brought back to the mainland by Harley Marine Services and began working in the ship assist and tanker escort market of San Francisco Bay as Starlight Marine Services. At 95 feet and 4,000 hp they have proven to be a very versatile and robust package, combining the Caterpillar 3516-B engines with Ulstein 1650H Z-Drive Units. This power package has been a good match in many of the past Jensen designed tugs and the Z boats demonstrate further what a versatile and reliable combination this is.

Lately the trend to build bigger and more powerful tugs has required a step back as shipping markets, the economy, air pollution and fuel consumption become serious issues to consider. The mid-range size of the Z Tugs can produce around 112,000 lbs. of bollard pull and still offer an efficient and cost effective vessel with better fuel economy and fewer emissions than many other tugs. While most pilots would be thrilled with a 10,000-hp tug on each end of the ship, the 8,000 hp of vectored thrust provided by a pair of Z tugs is a powerful and responsive package capable of nearly any work in the harbor.

For the crew the interior layout offers generous accommodations with 5 staterooms, 2 heads, a roomy galley and saloon. This is a huge factor in attracting new mariners into the industry and in retaining the current veterans. Working on tugs for a career requires a special tolerance for living in confined spaces with other people for extended periods of time. Having a quiet, private stateroom for each sailor makes a gulf of difference in the attitude onboard and ability to endure the grueling work schedule. A recent modification at Starlight, isolating and insulating the generator exhaust mounts, made an impressive reduction in onboard noise levels, and substantially improved the living environment for the crews.

The visibility from the wheelhouse and the superior deck lighting surpass any tug I have been onboard. Like most of the Jensen designed vessels the layout arranges the bitts, deck winches, hardware and controls in a very usable fashion while still retaining the traditional flare and attractive lines their vessels are known for.

San Francisco Bar Pilot Morgan Hoburg operated the Z-5 for several years as a tug captain at Starlight Marine. “The Z Tugs have enough dead weight to provide effective braking force when dragging astern of a ship yet they are responsive and nimble enough to work around the stem for any type of maneuvering needed.” says Morgan.

Another feature he pointed out is the ability to push at full speed for hours on end without overheating. Even the most advanced tractor tugs launched recently will overheat when running full after a few minutes because of the tendency to use an inadequate raw water cooling system during construction. This has been a universal source of absolute grief for every tug engineer to date and they will tell you so with rabid zeal. The Z Tugs incorporate oversized box coolers designed for Hawaiian waters, which provide unlimited cooling capacity. This can be a very critical point since all the horsepower in the world is useless if it isn’t available for a sustained period in an emergency situation which requires full power.

Halfway back out the estuary we near Berth 58 and begin the final, starboard side approach towards the dock. When the ship’s speed is reduced to 2 knots we receive the order “Z-5, out to a 90” and I swing the tug out to push/pull mode on a short line. After pushing full for a few minutes we check it up with an “easy away” and then an “all stop”. After some wrangling the pilot has the ship stopped in a flat position against the dock face. The final command of “both tugs push easy” pins her alongside under the cranes and the mooring lines begin going over to the longshoremen. The streamlined shape of the new ships allows very little flat surface to make contact with the dock face and is often a matter of see-sawing gradually back and forth until the head and stern lines are made fast and tightened.

Once these lines are secured fore and aft, the ship’s crew lowers down our headline and the pilot cuts us loose with, “That’s it for the Z-5, have a good day”. After a quick glance at the schedule we’re off to the next job: a steel ship sailing from Pittsburgh in five hours. We turn the Z-5 on a new course out of the Estuary to begin our trip across the bay and up river for the next ship that requires our assistance.

Captain Jordan May operates Tractor Tugs on the US West Coast and is a member of the MTV Association (, a mariners advocate group for towing-specific issues.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Coast Guard Eyes Cargo Strapping Rules

The United States Coast Guard is seeking public comment on methods for securing cargo in freight containers and transport vehicles in an effort to determine if new standards for flexible securing systems are needed.

According to a notice published in the Federal Register on Friday, the Coast Guard has recently received complaints about damage to cargo inside containers that was secured with flexible strapping and is now considering making changes to strapping rules.

"There is a concern that without an approval process, certain flexible strapping systems could be used even though they may not adequately secure cargo when properly installed," wrote the Coast Guard.

While current rules require the bracing of cargo to prevent damage, the method employed is left to the discretion of the firm packing the cargo. The Coast Guard is considering whether there is a need for a standardized certification or approval process for cargo securing systems. According to the Coast Guard, under current US regulations and international codes, there is no certification or qualification standards for securing cargo with strapping systems.

The Coast Guard is taking comments until March 9 (search for Docket No. USCG-2009-1079 at on these topics:
  • The need for a new approval process or certification standard for cargo securing systems.
  • Information on currently used standards for the approval and use of cargo securing systems.
  • Methods for ensuring or verifying that securing systems adequately secure cargo without damaging the container or cargo.
  • Existing test methods for securing systems.
  • Materials used for securing cargo within the container (e.g. wood, plastic, bags, web, wire, chain, etc.).
  • Allowances for movement of cargo within the container when securing systems are used.
  • Information on cargo securing systems that are currently being used to secure cargo in containers, both domestically and internationally.
Written comments and responses to the above topics will be added to the docket number for this notice. The Coast Guard said that it intends to review and analyze all comments received "in order to develop a way forward for securing cargo in containers."

SoCal Ports' Nighttime Gate Program Hampered by Low Volumes

PierPass, the nighttime gates program at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles introduced in 2005 to deal with daytime truck congestion, could find itself a victim of the industry-wide downturn in cargo volume, according to NYK Line Americas Executive Vice President Peter Keller.

Keller told the audience of the National Retail Federation annual conference on Monday that the program, which places charges on daytime moves that are then used to pay for nighttime gates at the two ports to remain open, has had to drop some nighttime service due to a lack of volume. This has forced some shippers to shift cargo to the daytime gates and incur the additional daytime charges.

Keller said that the program, created by terminal operators at the height of the cargo boom in LA/LB, no longer makes sense with the recent drop in cargo volumes– which some individual LA/LB terminals have reported to be as high as 30 percent over the past year.

By all accounts the program has been a tremendous success, with nighttime gates paid for by PierPass at one time handling up to 40 percent of all gate moves at the two ports. However, with a surplus of daytime manpower and each nighttime gate requiring more costly overtime hours, Keller said he believes that the current efficacy of PierPass should be looked at closely.

Bay Area Group Buys Seattle Cold Storage Firm

San Francisco-based investment firm Bay Grove Capital announced this week that it has acquired Seattle, Washington-based cold storage warehouse services company CityIce Cold Storage.

Under the terms of the deal, Bay Grove's holding company, West Coast Cold, will oversee CityIce, a 4.5 million cubic-foot cold storage facility located at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 91.

The deal also brings CityIce and Seafreeze Cold Storage--a 7 million cubic-foot cold storage facility also located at the Port of Seattle and purchased by Bay Grove in December 2008--under the same West Coast Cold umbrella. “Bringing these well established local operations together under the management of West Coast Cold provides customers with enhanced cold storage services and deepens our partnership with the Port of Seattle while allowing for greater investment in the facilities,” said Kevin Marchetti, Managing Director of Bay Grove.

The CityIce deal makes West Coast Cold the leading provider of cold storage in the Seattle area, with a combined total of 11 million cubic feet of cold storage facilities. The two firms provide more than 140 full-time jobs in addition to more than 750 processing operator positions.

Financial terms of the deal were not released.

In related news, Bay Grove also announced that it has appointed industry veteran Pat Floyd as President of West Coast Cold.

Prior to joining West Coast Cold, Floyd held several key executive positions within the cold storage industry, including COO of Nordic Cold Storage, an operator of fourteen cold storage facilities based in Atlanta, Georgia and Executive Vice President of North American Operations at 3PL firm Total Logistics Control.

Metro Ports Name Three New Execs

Wilmington, Calif.-based terminal operator and stevedore contractor Metro Ports has announced three new management appointments: Patrick Furrow, senior VP HR & administrative services; Kenneth Keane, director, safety; and Steve Mathis, director, business development.

Furrow joined the 87-year-old Metro in September 2009, while Keane and Mathis both joined in December 2009.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Wilmington, Calif.-based Nautilus International Holding Corp., Metro Ports has California operations in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Redwood City, San Diego, San Francisco, and Stockton, in addition to operations in Savannah, Ga.; Wilmington, N.C.; and Anacortes, Wash. Companies under the Metro Ports brand include Metropolitan Stevedore Co., Southeast Crescent Shipping Co., and Southeast Maritime Services LLC (which holds the Savannah International Terminal).

In his new position, Furrow, a 14-year veteran of the human resources field, will report directly to Metro president & CEO James Callahan as a key business partner responsible for attracting, developing and retaining talent and ensuring safety and compliance measures and managing administrative contacts and expenditures.

As the Metro director of safety, Keane will oversee a decentralized safety program in coordination with safety group leaders and the training of accident prevention to company staff and its divisions; ensures compliance with federal, state, and local safety rules and regulations; and interfaces with various agencies with oversight of workplace safety, while continually improving the corporate culture of safety through leadership, training, and example. Keane is a 25-year veteran of the United States Coast Guard who retired as a captain in 2000 before serving in various safety/security positions within the industry.

Mathis, a 25-year veteran of the logistics field, will, according to a Metro release, "be a key resource in the identification, marketing and execution of business development opportunities for Metro Ports on the West Coast, working across the Metro organization to build West Coast profit centers."

ILWU Endorses Three Long Beach City Council Incumbents

The Southern California District Council of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has thrown its support behind three Long Beach City Council incumbents in the upcoming April 13 city-wide election while at the same time endorsing an opponent of one of the council strongest labor proponents in a fourth race.

The ILWU District Council, which represents more than 20,000 workers in the region including the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, voted Saturday to endorse incumbents Robert Garcia in the 1st District race, Gary DeLong in the 3rd District, and Gerrie Schipske in the 5th District race.

In the 7th District race, where termed-out incumbent Tonia Reyes-Uranga is running a write-in campaign for a third term, the union backed challenger James Johnson, an Assistant City Auditor. The move suprised come City Hall watchers as Reyes-Uranga is considered by many as the strongest pro-union voice on the council.

The union said that while Reyes-Uranga has been a major supporter of the union cause, the District Council felt that Johnson understood the issues of the ports better.

The union's District Council also voted to withhold an endorsement of any candidate in the four-way race for the 9th District, where termed out incumbent Val Lerch is also running a write-in campaign for a third term.