Despite major projects at both its two container terminals, Virginia managed to hold its box traffic steady in 2018.
While most of its competitors on the east coast posted volume growth above the average for US ports in 2018, container throughput at Virginia stayed flat in the same year. The port processed 2,855,904 TEU in 2018, up just 0.5% on 2017.
Looking at the port’s statistics, loaded export containers fell 3.6% and import empty containers plummeted 47.8%, but at just 22,650 TEU the latter category are a relatively small part of the port’s business.
“Our growth in 2018 was less than what we had planned for, but as construction proceeded at Virginia International Gateway (VIG) and Norfolk International Terminals (NIT), we made the decisions to temporarily hold some cargo and limit the movement of empty containers,” said John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “We knew those moves would have a bearing on our year-end totals. Though we still set a new mark, it was a rather static performance. In a larger sense, we made the right moves because we were able to get through a very challenging period while maintaining our service levels.
“We cannot always measure success in terms of cargo volume,” Reinhart continued. “It was a landmark year for The Port of Virginia and we look at 2018 as a year of accomplishments. Each month we saw new equipment being delivered, new capacity coming on line, the incorporation of technology and projects like Wider, Deeper, Safer getting the necessary federal approval to move forward. Equally as important is that we were safe in the execution of our jobs.”
Virginia is currently running the biggest yard crane procurement programme in the world (at least until Tuas Mega Port in Singapore starts building its fleet) as it extends VIG and converts NIT from a straddle carrier to the same ASC yard system, while continuing to operate both terminals. “We are still operating in a period of transition and are taking the necessary steps to maintain our service levels with an emphasis on safety. We know we can always improve and will continue to do those things that will make The Port of Virginia sustainable for decades to come,” Reinhart said.
On the quayside, VIG last week took delivery of four new ZPMC cranes. Purchased at a cost of US$44.8M including spare parts, the cranes will have an outreach of 26 container rows. Virginia has always felt the need to have the biggest cranes in the US, and that continues today. “These cranes are the biggest of the big – the largest ZPMC has ever delivered to the U.S.” said Virginia Port Authority (VPA) Board Chairman John G. Milliken. “What is unique about these cranes is their outreach, they will be able to reach across a vessel that is 26 containers wide, which is three-to-four containers wider than most cranes. We anticipated needing this capacity (of the cranes) for the ships that will be coming to Virginia 10 years from now. When that day comes The Port of Virginia will be ready.”
Being “ready” in the US context, where there is almost no transhipment, means a terminal can efficiently process a huge vessel call on the landside, delivering containers through the gate within the agreements carriers have with the shippers. This is an area where US ports are struggling currently.