Friday, January 23, 2015

Puget Sound Ports Annual Container Volumes Flat

By Mark Edward Nero

Container volumes through Puget Sound’s two largest seaports were flat in 2014, according to numbers jointly released by the ports of Seattle and Tacoma Jan. 21. The joint numbers release is the first since the ports announced their plan to unify the management of their marine cargo terminals and related functions last fall.

The two ports announced in October 2014 plans to form a Seaport Alliance to unify management of marine cargo terminals and related functions. The strategy, currently in the due diligence phase, is in response to competitive threats and something the ports say will strengthen the Puget Sound gateway and create more economic opportunities.

“Reporting our combined cargo volumes demonstrates our commitment to the Seaport Alliance,” Port of Seattle Commission co-President Stephanie Bowman explained.

Puget Sound container volumes fell less than one percent in calendar year 2014 to 3.4 million TEUs, according to the ports. Tacoma and Seattle’s combined volumes have hovered near 3.5 million TEUs since 2010. Last year marked the second consecutive year of decline.

When the numbers for the ports are separated, the Port of Tacoma saw an increase in container traffic of about eight percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, while traffic through the Port of Seattle was down 11.3 percent year-to-year.

Larger vessels and shipping line alliances mean fewer vessels are calling at fewer ports, something that ports from Puget Sound to the San Pedro Bay have expressed concerns over. Together, Seattle and Tacoma comprise the third-largest container gateway in North America, but their share of the West Coast market has been falling over the past decade.

Containerized export volumes through the two ports dipped 1.6 percent in 2014 to 1.2 million TEUs, while imports fell 4.1 percent to 1.4 million TEUs. However, domestic container volumes grew 6.1 percent to 870,733 TEUs on the strength of Alaska trade.

In other 2014 cargo news: grain exports at the two ports rebounded, jumping 96.5 percent to 7.5 million metric tons following a bumper crop that helped return grain to normal volumes following 2013’s historic lows.

Also, petroleum volumes grew 26.6 percent to 997,977 metric tons and breakbulk volumes improved 1.3 percent to 253,377 metric tons on the strength of construction and heavy machinery imports.

Additionally, auto imports posted a 9.6 percent gain to 175,802 units as an improving economy and decreasing fuel prices drove new car sales, while log exports fell 28.9 percent to 276,628 metric tons, with decreasing demand in China cited as the main cause.