Regional Ports Offer Carriers Opportunities to Avoid Congestion

Portland and Baltimore are regional ports expanding container service
Portland resumed weekly container service in 2020 after more than four years (Portland)

Published Sep 8, 2021 3:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

Regional ports that once were excluded from the major container services are increasingly benefitting from the ongoing surge in U.S. imports. With increased demand from a broader range of shippers, the major carriers are expanding from the primary routes into regional ports both as an opportunity to take advantage of the demand and avoid congestion in the larger ports.

Second-tier ports including Oakland, California, and Seattle and Tacoma, Washington used the headline-generating backlogs in Southern California as an opportunity to highlight the capabilities and available berths. Both ports benefited in 2021 receiving containerships that were bypassing Los Angeles and Long Beach to avoid the long delays.

Portland, Oregon which lost its weekly container service in 2016, started to receive its first weekly service in 2020 from South Korea-based carrier SM Line. The success of that service is contributing to a resurgence at the regional port with Portland reporting its highest container traffic total since 2014.

SM Line recently announced that it will be adding two additional vessels a month on its service to Portland meaning that the carrier will have at least six vessels a month at Portland’s Terminal 6. In addition, SM Line is beginning a new intermodal rail service via the Union Pacific railway to Chicago.

Also starting in mid-September, MSC will start calling at Portland with weekly transpacific service. It will mark only the second time in nearly 15 years that Portland has had two weekly transpacific services. The MSC service is an express from China with Portland being the first stop followed by Tacoma. According to the Port of Portland, regional importers will now have the fastest transit times from Asia on the market.

Shippers who have turned to charters to ensure that they can get their shipments are also being attracted to the available terminal space. Starting in mid-August, chartered vessels for three shippers, DSV, Seko, and DHL, started using the Port of Portland. The vessels are discharging 600 containers every three weeks in one-off port calls.

“While these new services won’t solve supply chain issues overnight, they will help local businesses find alternative shipping options in our region,” said Dan Pippenger, chief operating officer at the Port of Portland.  “This additional container service also brings more good-paying maritime, warehouse, and trucking jobs to the region.”

With port congestion at an all-time high, officials at the Port of Baltimore are also highlighting the need for more cargo gateways. Ranked first in the U.S. as a RoRo port handling the most autos, light trucks, farm and construction equipment, as well as gypsum imports, Baltimore is also expanding its container operations. This week, Maersk inaugurated the first direct ocean service from Southeast Asia for the Port of Baltimore.

 The new service is another example of major carriers expanding their routes to capture opportunities with regional ports. The TP20 route Maersk started will include up to 13 ships with a carrying capacity of 4,500-plus TEU. The route originates in Vietnam, making stops at Ningbo-Zhoushan and Shanghai in China before sailing directly via the Panama Canal to Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia.

The Port of Baltimore is looking to expand on its operations with mid-sized containerships noting in addition to its regular service 23 extra loaders were serviced in the port over the past year totaling an additional 35,000 TEU.

With no end in sight to the surge in volumes, regional ports are continuing their efforts to expand capabilities and attract new carriers.