Port of Baltimore Gears up for post-Panamax trade

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The newly constructed Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Port of Baltimore is fully functional, as giant Chinese-constructed cranes unload a constant stream of goods. The $250m project, funded by Ports America, has opened in anticipation of the expansion of the Panama Canal. The terminal will be operated under a 50-year lease, signed by the Port of Baltimore and the Maryland Port Administration.

The Port of Baltimore is currently one of only two East coast ports that can accommodate large cargo, or “post-Panamax”, ships, the second such facility being the Port of Virginia, in Norfolk. By 2015, however, the Panama Canal locks will have been expanded to manage longer and wider ships, opening the door to East coast ports and the Gulf of Mexico.

The dredging of Baltimore’s channel and construction of a 50-ft berth forms part of a ports “arms race” that has swept the country. Larger ships carrying more cargo lead to increased profits, and this large-scale expansion is seen as key to the port’s economic survival. Ports America Chesapeake president, Mark Montgomery, said: “It will allow a ship that is three times as big to come through the canal once the widening project is finished. It’s a significant change in maritime economics.”

The expanded capacity includes four new “super post-panamax” cranes, at 400-foot-tall, are considered the largest of their kind in the maritime industry, reaching 22 containers across on a container ship and lifting 187,300 pounds of cargo. These are in addition to Baltimore’s existing seven “post-panamax” 18 container cranes.

Forecasts of a manufacturing shift towards Southeast Asian states such as Vietnam and Cambodia will further change the field of play for port economics. James White, Maryland Port Administration’s executive director, said: “I think we’re probably going to see, within the next five to 10 years, most of the transits, if that continues, to come to the Suez Canal, with the Panama Canal getting maybe some overflow.”

Richard Greenan

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