Friday, August 28, 2015

Survey: Many Mariners Dread Port Calls

By Mark Edward Nero

Seafarers sometimes dread port calls because of the increase in workload caused by audits and inspections when a ship is in dock, according to a new survey by Crewtoo, an online social network for seafarers.

The quarterly Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index report is designed to monitor and benchmark seafarer satisfaction levels via 10 key questions. The results of the second quarterly report were revealed Aug. 26. They show a seafarer satisfaction level of 6.44 on a scale of one to 10, up 0.02 from the inaugural survey published in May.

According to the latest survey results, the increase in workload at port also caused a drop in satisfaction levels toward shore leave, as the amount of work often eats into the time available for relaxation.

“I am happy at sea but when our vessel enters port, it is a very hard time,” one respondent stated.
Increased stress during port visits and either reduced or non-existent shore leave gives seafarers very few opportunities to relax and unwind away from their vessels.

However, the latest quarterly Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index also shows several areas where satisfaction improved versus the first report.

For example, there was an improvement in crew satisfaction with salary levels and an improvement in their feelings about the standard of food available onboard. The availability of exercising onboard was also viewed more positively, as was the satisfaction derived from crew interaction and team building, which increased from 6.96 to 7.16 and became the highest score in the survey.

Answers to the survey were received from across all ranks and nationalities including seafarers from the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Philippines, Poland, Croatia, Germany, India, and Turkey, as well as a number of African nations.

The age of the respondents ranged from 16 to late 60s. Masters made up the largest proportion of responses by rank; 11 percent of respondents stated that they were currently serving in the role of captain. The majority of responses were from seafarers working on bulk carriers and container vessels.

Full results of the latest survey can be downloaded at

Vancouver USA Wins Environmental Case

By Mark Edward Nero

The Washington Court of Appeals on Aug. 25 ruled in favor of the Port of Vancouver USA regarding an appeal brought by two environmental groups over whether the port’s lease for the Vancouver Energy terminal complies with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

Environmental groups Columbia Riverkeeper and Northwest Environmental Defense Center claimed that the port failed to follow SEPA during the lease approval process.

Specifically, they alleged that the port should have waited to approve the lease until the state energy siting council (EFSEC) issued its environmental impact statement. They alleged that the lease improperly limited the alternatives to be considered in the siting council process.

However, the appeals court this week affirmed a January 2014 ruling by Clark County Superior Court Judge David E. Gregerson, who had ruled that the Port of Vancouver USA was not required to conduct a SEPA review prior to entering the lease with Tesoro-Savage.

Gregerson also found that the lease did not limit the alternatives to be considered during environmental review because it’s contingent on completion of that review.

The Court of Appeals also found that the port’s decision to enter the lease was exempt from SEPA’s Environmental Impact Statement requirement and did not limit the choice of reasonable alternatives for the project.

“We are pleased that the three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the decision of the Superior Court,” port CEO Todd Coleman said. “This is yet another ruling in the port’s favor that reaffirms our commitment to responsible development and thorough environmental review.”

“We look forward to continuing our collaborative work with all interested parties as the Vancouver Energy project goes through the EFSEC process,” Coleman said.

Asia-North America Trade Boom Expected by 2020

By Mark Edward Nero

Trade from China and Southeast Asia to North America is expected to boom during the next five years, according to new analysis released Aug. 26 by information and analytics company IHS Inc.

The World Trade Service of IHS Maritime & Trade forecasts that China’s trade will continue to increase by more than five percent per year between 2015 and 2020. This positive medium-term trade growth comes despite more recent setbacks caused by the marked economic slowdown in China and weaker growth among other emerging markets in the current and near-term.

“These increases will not be the double-digit rises seen before the 2008 global economic crisis,” IHS maritime and trade principal analyst Krispen Atkinson predicted. “However, an increase of more than 30 percent in the next five years underscores China’s intent to remain a new trade hub-and spoke lynchpin for the rest of the economic world.”

One new trend is the move toward larger container ships to streamline the supply chain. Shipping alliances that dominate east-west trade are pushing the trend toward containerships capable of carrying 20,000 TEUs in their quest to reduce unit costs. Current container ships hold around 13,000 boxes, so the new container carriers are capable of transporting more than 50 percent more cargo. Their push has meant further capacity has become available in the trade.

The analysis also predicts a boom in trade between Southeast Asian countries and North America.
Vietnam’s exports are estimated to increase by 44 percent by 2020. IHS forecasts a 44 percent increase in trade between Vietnam and North America and a 43 percent increase in trade between Vietnam and Europe in the next five years.

“China may be the major powerhouse in the region, but Southeast Asia is making significant headway,” Atkinson said. “In terms of actual cargo, the figures are still low when compared with China’s, but these are still huge jumps for these economies.”

Trade between the two regions is made up of manufactured goods like home appliances or mechanical hardware.

“Vietnam, India and many of the South Asian economies stand to benefit from recent energy and commodity price falls as net importers of these goods,” HIS director of sovereign risk analysis Jan Randolph said.

USCG Monitoring Tianjin Cargo for Contamination

By Mark Edward Nero

The US Coast Guard said Aug. 26 that it is monitoring vessel traffic and cargo departing the port complex in Tianjin, China, following the warehouse explosions that occurred Aug. 12 through 15.

Subject to monitoring is any vessel that was in the Tianjin port complex, or that has loaded cargo or containers that were in the Tianjin port complex, at the time of the explosions on Aug. 12 through Aug. 15.

The monitoring, which is being conducted by both the USCG and Customs & Border Protection, is due to concerns that there may be potentially hazardous ash, debris or residues on vessels or cargo bound for US ports.

Vessels affected by the Tianjin explosions are expected to call on US ports over the next several weeks, and while there have been no reports of vessels with confirmed hazardous debris or residues onboard, US companies are looking for reassurances regarding the health and safety of those who handle shipping containers across the supply chain.

The federal government is working with local, state and federal port and international partners to coordinate efforts to identify any potential risks on inbound vessels and cargo to help ensure public safety.

“Although there is much reporting in the media as to the situation in Tianjin, China, there is not yet clarity of the full extent or nature of any possible chemical contamination that may be aboard impacted vessels,” Coast Guard officials wrote in a marine safety information bulletin distributed this week.

“Vessel owners and operators should be aware of the potential for hazardous ash, debris or residues onboard impacted vessels or containers, particularly in cargo bays and interior spaces not regularly exposed to the elements,” the bulletin continued.

The Coast Guard has said that although there have been no reports of vessels with confirmed hazardous ash, debris or residues onboard, affected vessels and cargo may have an increased risk of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. Several hazardous chemicals are reported to have been in the main warehouse during the incident, including sodium cyanide and calcium carbide.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Oakland Port Moving Toward Saturday Operations

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Oakland wants to operate on Saturdays, but has a couple of concerns about potential weekend gate openings, the port’s executive director revealed in a recent letter to the Federal Maritime Commission.

In the letter, sent Aug. 18 by port Executive Director Chris Lytle to Federal Maritime Commission Secretary Karen Gregory, Lytle said opening terminal gates on Saturdays could ease congestion and improve efficiency in Oakland.

Lytle’s letter was in response to plans by Oakland marine terminal operators to open their gates on Saturdays. The proposal, currently under review by the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners, could ease weekday terminal crowding by adding a sixth day of work.

Oakland terminals are already open on weekends for vessel operations, but rarely for other activities.
The new arrangement would open terminals every Saturday for full operations, including gate entry. This would enable harbor truckers to pick-up containerized imports for delivery, drop-off exports or return empty containers.

In his letter, Lytle said there are two caveats to Saturday operations, one being a resolution to a current labor shortage that has slowed vessel loading operations for several months; and the other being that any fee to fund Saturday operations must be reasonable and used exclusively for those operations.

The port, which itself doesn’t operate marine terminals, has said it favors Saturday hours as part of a broader plan developed to speed up cargo delivery. That plan includes offsite locations to collect empty containers and a common pool of container chassis for harbor truckers.

A labor shortage that has reduced productivity this summer is being addressed, the Port said. It added, however, that more dockworkers are needed to ensure Saturday operations are successful.

If Saturday gate hours were put into place, their effectiveness would be reviewed after one year of operation, according to the port.

Port Metro Vancouver Shows Mid-Year Growth

By Mark Edward Nero

Port Metro Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, is seeing continued growth in trade through the Pacific Gateway, according to recently released mid-year statistical data.

Total cargo was 70.3 million metric tons, an increase of 1.5 percent over the same six months in 2014 according to the data, which was released Aug. 18.

Increases in wheat, sulphur, potash, lumber and consumer goods boosted results according to the data, while declines were registered in coal and petroleum products. Movement of breakbulk (8.38 million tons) rose two percent from last year to this one.

Trade using containers showed substantial growth, with an eight percent jump in the number of TEUs.

Continued growth in container numbers on the West Coast of Canada has been projected for some time, but this higher-than-expected jump is likely due to the impact of US cargo diverted to Vancouver earlier this year in response to labor unrest at US West Coast ports, and deflated results last year due to a 28-day Vancouver trucking dispute in March 2014.

“We are seeing continued growth of trade through Port Metro Vancouver as Canadian demand for foreign products and international demand for Canadian resources continue to increase,” President and Port Metro Vancouver Chief Executive Officer Robin Silvester said. “Our … overall cargo grew in the first half of 2015 despite some softening markets and global economic uncertainty.”

Auto volumes in the first half of 2015 were up seven percent according to port data, with 212,266 units moved during the first half of 2015. Also, The port projects its 2015 cruise season to be on par with previous years, with an estimated 805,000 passengers on 228 visits by 32 vessels.

Imperium Renewables Sale Finalized

By Mark Edward Nero

Seattle-based oil and energy company Imperium Renewables Inc., which operates the largest BQ9000 certified biodiesel plant in the US, has been acquired by Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group (REG), the country’s largest producer of biodiesel.

The eight-year-old biodiesel plant, located at the Port of Grays Harbor’s Terminal 1 in Hoquiam, Washington, is capable of producing 100 million gallons of distilled biodiesel.

REG paid Imperium $15.0 million in cash and issued 1.675 million shares of REG common stock in exchange for all of Imperium’s assets. The deal closed Aug. 19.

“The acquisition of Imperium Grays Harbor will greatly expand REG’s domestic production footprint and market access to the Pacific Northwest and Canada,” Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson explained. “We look forward to working with REG.”

This will be REG’s 11th active biodiesel refinery and the first on the West Coast.

The facility, constructed in 2007, is the largest facility of the West Coast and is to become the largest of REG’s facilities.

REG has been a supplier of advanced biofuels for more than a decade. REG’s REG-9000TM biomass-based diesel is distributed in most states in the US. The company also markets ultra-low sulfur diesel and heating oil in the Northeast and Midwest.

According to REG, most of Imperium’s employees have agreed to stay on with Renewable Energy Group.

“The transition at Grays Harbor has been seamless so far thanks to the dedicated team at Imperium who we are now proud to have as members of the REG family,” REG President and CEO Daniel Oh said.

Vancouver USA Completes Rail Project

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Vancouver USA and its partners on Aug. 17 cut the ribbon on a $30 million rail project that is expected to help ensure that trains move, that goods flow from regional businesses and that Washington state remains competitive in the global market.

Known as the Trench, the project is a component of the port’s $275 million West Vancouver Freight Access project (WVFA), which aims to reduce regional rail congestion by up to 40 percent.

The Trench is designed to eliminate conflicts between trains entering the port, and triples the port’s rail capacity, thereby allowing tenants to efficiently move products like grain, steel, vehicles and wind energy components.

The Trench was completed $8 million under budget and ahead of schedule. The entire WVFA is expected to be complete in 2017.

Last week’s ribbon cutting featured port officials, US Sen. Maria Cantwell, and representatives from the offices of US Sen. Patty Murray, US Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Gov. Jay Inlsee. A crowd of about 100 people from various partner agencies, port businesses and community groups also joined in the celebration.

Sen. Cantwell stressed how critical freight projects like WVFA are to the efficient movement of goods, helping Washington state businesses remain competitive as markets change and trade is increasingly globalized.

“One thing’s clear: freight can’t wait. It has to move,” she said.