Port of Virginia Reports Volume Declines as it Continues Investments

Port of Virginia reports declines but looks to future investments
Virginia International Gateway (file photo)

Published Jul 23, 2020 8:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Virginia completed a challenging but transitional fiscal year ended in June 2020. Like ports around the world, Virginia volumes were impacted by the pandemic. They, however, are also continuing investments which they expect to complete this year that will lay the groundwork for future growth.

For the twelve months ended June, the port reported just over a six percent decline in TEUs with the largest decline in imports (6.5%) with a more modest decline (2.5%) in exports. Breakbulk volume, however, was especially hard hit down by more than a quarter for the year.

June 2020’s results highlighted the impact of the pandemic along with the ongoing impact of the trade tariffs. Total TEUs was down 12 percent in June. The largest declines were in exports down 15 percent, which was more than twice the level of decline in loaded exports. Breakbulk again was very hard hit in June with its tonnage down by half versus 2019.

“Accurately measuring the results of a year turned upside-down by a pandemic is a significant challenge,” said John F. Reinhart, the CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “Total cargo volume and revenue are our usual primary metrics, but to get a true picture of what was accomplished in FY20, it is important to take into account our accomplishments beyond the numbers. As we looked more closely at the work we did prior to, and during the pandemic – and outside of our normal metrics -- we came away with a unique picture of success in a year of obstacles.” 

Commenting on the factors that have impacted the results of the port so far in 2020, they cited the negative effects of the U.S.-China trade war, while noting that the trade talks yielded some resolution on agriculture exports. However, volumes failed to rebound after the normal slowdowns the port expected in January.

“Our trade in the last half of FY20 fell-off significantly, with overall TEU volumes being down more than 12 percent, or 180,000 units,” Reinhart said. “Our average monthly TEU volume during the last half of the fiscal year was 212,000 units, versus 242,000 units for the same period in FY19. During the height of the pandemic, there were 57 regularly-scheduled vessel calls to Virginia that never happened because there wasn’t enough volume.” 

While the overall results highlighted the challenges the port reported several encouraging developments including growth in the among of cargo moved by barge as well as private investment inside the terminals.

 Laying the groundwork for the future the port also highlights capacity expansion ongoing at its Virginia International Gateway and Norfolk International Terminal which helped to reduce the processing time for rail and time trucks spent on terminal.

“We’ve made significant progress on the capacity expansion at NIT and we’re on target for completion there in the fall,” Reinhart said. “The widening and deepening of our commercial shipping channels (to 55 feet) is running ahead of schedule. We are in the final stages of planning to expand the rail operation at Virginia Inland Port. And though volume was off, the continual focus on efficiency is producing real results.” 

The port is also preparing for its upcoming transition in leadership as John Reinhart, who led the port for six-and-a-half years, will be retiring in 2021.