Tacoma Port Bests Seattle in 2013 Container Count

The Port of Tacoma pulled significantly ahead of the Port of Seattle in container count during 2013, largely a result of the move of the Grand Alliance group of steamship lines from Seattle to Tacoma in 2012.

Whatever bragging rights that may bring Tacoma, the region’s overall erosion in cargo market share is pushing the two Puget Sound container ports toward closer collaboration.

Just-released numbers show that the equivalent of 1.89 million 20-foot containers (a measurement called TEUs). moved over Port of Tacoma docks during 2013. In comparison, the Port of Seattle handled 1.57 million TEUs, fewer than it handled in 2009 during the depths of the recession.

The Grand Alliance that switched to Tacoma in mid-2012, a collective of three of the world’s largest ocean carriers, includes Hapag-Lloyd (based in Germany), Orient Overseas Container Line (Hong Kong), and NYK Line (Japan).

For 2012 the leaders were switched, with the Port of Seattle ahead with 1.88 million TEUs, compared to the Port of Tacoma’s 1.71 million.

When viewed together, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are stalled. Together, they handled 3.46 million TEUs during 2013 — slightly fewer than the 3.56 million they handled in 2008, just before the recession, and down from the 3.60 million they handled in 2012.

Meanwhile, West Coast container traffic overall increased 1.3 percent, to 15.4 million TEUs during 2012, according to the Pacific Maritime Association. Numbers for 2013 have not yet been compiled, but the Puget Sound has been losing market share against the West Coast, and nationally, for years.

Partly in response to this trend, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are increasing their collaboration, and on Jan. 17 filed a “discussion agreement” with the Federal Maritime Commission.

“The agreement allows the two ports, with appropriate legal oversight, to share information about their respective operations, facilities and rates,” said a statement at the time. “These discussions are aimed at increasing our collective market share and generating more container cargo moving through Puget Sound, the nation’s third-largest container gateway.”

In the unusual joint statement, the ports alluded to increasing competition, especially from ports in the Southeast which are building up capacity in anticipation of the completion of the Panama Canal widening project.

“The ports of Seattle and Tacoma face fierce competition from ports throughout North America and must adjust to shifts in the global maritime industry,” the statement said. “Global shipping lines, continuing to lose millions of dollars each year, are investing in larger vessels with more capacity, sharing those vessels, consolidating terminals and reducing the number of ports at which they call.

Steve Wilhelm-Puget Sound Business Journal

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