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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
NY Times
New York Port Hums Again, With Asian Trade
Published: November 22, 2004

The deck of the freighter Hyundai Glory was stacked so high with cargo -- acres of containers packed with shoes, toys and living-room sets -- that it was hard to see how the ship stayed afloat as it glided into New York Harbor after a 23-day trip from China.

The arrival of the tremendous ship, nearly as long as the Chrysler Building is tall, drew almost no notice one recent day, except from some cruise passengers who waved excitedly. But it was a testament to something equally enormous, and perhaps as overlooked, happening in the Port of New York.

The sprawling harbor, which transformed New York into a world commercial capital in the 1800's, fell into a humiliating slump in the second half of the 20th century as other North American seaports thrived, particularly on the West Coast and in the South. But the tide has reversed for New York, driven by the explosion of trade with China, which each year is manufacturing a larger share of goods for American stores.

Trade through the port, which was shrinking or flat a decade ago, has grown faster in the last five years than at any point since just after World War II. The rate of that surge -- a 65 percent increase in overall container traffic since 1998 -- has been nearly twice the national average, and faster than that of any other major East Coast port except Savannah, Ga. Last year, $100 billion worth of wares moved through the port, up 12 percent in just a year.

That new bustle signals a startling change in global shipping. Vessels like the Hyundai Glory, one of eight floating warehouses that form a weekly shuttle called the NYX or New York Express, are sailing directly from Asia, taking what used to be a prohibitively time-consuming route across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic Coast.

These so-called All Water Route services to New York have cut traveling times so drastically that many goods once unloaded in California and carried across the country by train are now shipped straight to New York; there are nearly 20 lines today, most of them started in the last five years.

Having cut labor costs, New York is winning the confidence of ship lines, manufacturers and merchants, effectively becoming a satellite of the Pacific Rim. Last year, four centuries after being settled by the Dutch, a milestone was reached: New York became an Asian-dominated port instead of a European one.

It is uncertain whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was caught off-guard by the strength of the resurgence, can exploit or even handle all the trade headed its way. But it is straining to respond. The authority and the operators of ship terminals that lease its land have begun $1 billion worth of expansion projects, including towering new cranes, bigger railyards, and new and enlarged wharves, a waterfront investment that is financed in part every time a commuter uses a bridge, tunnel or regional airport.

As the ships become larger, too, the Port Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers have embarked on one of the most extensive and expensive harbor-dredging projects in the nation's history to make way for a new generation of freighters that are even bigger than the Hyundai Glory, and cannot call on New York because the channels are too shallow. The $2.25 billion dig will continue, night and day, seven days a week, through the next decade.

Far beyond the harbor, immense warehouses and distribution centers are under construction in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Railyards are being expanded and barge links are being created to carry the cargo to distant markets. And all of this activity is stoking the region's economy.

To move the goods pouring in, about 3,500 longshoremen have been hired in the last five years, and thousands of workers have been added to the more than 100,000 the port directly supports, including truck drivers, railroad workers, warehouse stockers and marine bankers. As the expansion enables the port to accept bigger ships, goods should get to New York and into the stores more quickly and cheaply, reducing prices for consumers and manufacturers in the region, according to an Army Corps study.

New York is not the only seaport lifted by the tide of Asian imports. No one expects it to regain its status as the world's busiest container port -- a title it held until 1985 -- or the nation's. Today it is ranked 15th in the world, 3rd in the United States.

But the port is at a pivotal moment that offers huge promise and a stiff challenge. Though the port will certainly continue growing, it is unclear whether it will make good on plans to recapture its historic role as the dominant hub for the Midwest and Canada, or slide back to what it was becoming two decades ago: a narrower gateway serving mostly the Northeast.

''The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 effectively linked our coastal seaport to a rich and burgeoning interior market; that was absolutely a defining moment,'' said Peter Stanford, founder of the South Street Seaport Museum. ''Today we again have an opportunity to capture and handle an overwhelming majority of trade coming to the East Coast. We can't afford to **** this.''

Indeed, some question whether the Port Authority, a lumbering giant of an agency that was slow to react to the port's decline in the 1970's, can keep up with the rising demands. Already, long lines of tractor-trailers form at the entrances to the ship terminals, waiting to pick up growing loads of containers. The port has physical limits -- its open land and the narrowness of some of its most critical channels -- and these will restrict just how much it can expand.

Ultimately, the expansion projects are a costly gamble because the port's success or failure may hinge on forces beyond its control, from the competitive efforts of other East Coast ports to a narrow sluice of water 2,300 miles away in Panama. The Hyundai Glory squeezed through the canal recently with inches to spare, and the newest ships will not fit unless Panama decides to widen the waterway, a move that could become tangled in Central American politics.

Port Authority officials say they are confident their investment will pay off. But first they must perform the equivalent of a U-turn for an ocean liner. Over its 83 years, the authority shifted most attention and resources from the waterfront to airports, bridges, tunnels and its grandest project, the World Trade Center. Now it has resolved to return to its original mission.

''We absolutely don't want to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past by ignoring how important the ports are,'' said Anthony R. Coscia, the Port Authority chairman. ''We're now at a point where we're executing on a commitment to not make that mistake again. History is going to judge us as to our ability to execute.''

The Roots of Recovery: Costs Fall as Faster Ships Sail a Direct Route

The first men to attack the Hyundai Glory were the lashers, scampering like an army of ants across its deck, after the harbor pilots and tugs had maneuvered this behemoth ever so gently from Upper New York Bay through the narrow tidal inlet to a wharf at the Howland Hook Marine Terminal on Staten Island.

At a terminal where business was so scarce in the late 1980's that it shut down for a decade, the still night air began to echo with a clanging as the lashers feverishly unbuckled the steel anchors that tied down the containers, 2,087 of them, stacked 13 high from the bottom of the hull to the top of the deck, and then again 13 across. Matt Zuco, a crane operator, climbed into his glass-walled cab, 90 feet off the ground, and maneuvered his praying-mantis-like tower into place. Six cranes worked the Glory straight into the next afternoon.

The longshoremen are thrilled at the surge in work, which pays an average wage of $85,000 a year. The inventory of several hundred idle longshoremen who were paid not to work a decade ago -- part of a job guarantee that many seized when the port slumped -- has shrunk to fewer than 40. In just the last two years, more than 1,000 new union members, mostly young men who had never worked on the waterfront before, have been hired, and the terminals have extended their hours.

''You can sense it, you can see it,'' said Santo Lanza, a member of Mr. Zuco's gang. ''There is more work, more production. There is a future here.''

But the boisterous dock scene immortalized in ''On the Waterfront'' is long gone. The heart of the port has shifted west from the Hudson piers and Brooklyn to the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal and Port Newark in New Jersey, where rail lines and highways link the terminals to the rest of the country. The goods come in huge containers rather than in smaller crates, and most of their handling is automated. Only about 5,500 longshoremen work on the wharves today, down from 39,000 in 1955.

And the people in charge are not the union bosses and stevedores who once forced shippers and merchants to use the Hudson and Brooklyn piers. The real power brokers today are global importers like M. Richard Markovich, the director of international logistics at Michaels, a chain of 850 arts-and-crafts stores based in Irving, Tex.

Last year, Michaels moved nearly 140,000 tons of imports to the United States, 99 percent of them from Asia. One-quarter of these goods came through New York. Five years ago, not a single shipment did.

How and why Michaels shifted so many deliveries to New York explains, in large part, the port's new vigor. During the 1970's and 80's, when America's trade with Asia started to take off, the standard route was to ship containers to the West Coast, then double-stack them on rail cars that carried them across the country. By 1993, this route, nicknamed the ''mini land bridge,'' turned Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., into the nation's two biggest container ports.

The route became so popular that in 1990 the New York port handled fewer containers than in 1980, even as imports surged nationwide. By then, major ship lines had set up the first All Water Route lines, using the Suez Canal to serve Southeast Asia and then the Panama Canal to serve Northeast Asia, bringing cargo directly to New York and other Atlantic ports.

The big retailers say they knew all along that the mini land bridge did not make complete sense; the Northeast, after all, is the nation's biggest consumer marketplace. ''You want to go where the people are,'' Mr. Markovich said.

But before the new water services could flourish, retailers had to build enormous East Coast distribution centers where imported products could be stored or processed before going to stores. The warehouse construction began in Southeastern ports like Savannah, which Wal-Mart has adopted as one of its most important import hubs. Now it is the New York region's turn.

In 2002, Michaels opened a warehouse with 13 football fields' worth of floor space in Hazleton, Pa., handling deliveries that arrive in New York, destined for stores from Maryland to Maine and as far west as Ohio. Lowe's, the home improvement chain, has a new distribution center in nearby Pottsville, Pa., as does Big Lots, a 1,400-store discount retailer. Vast warehouses have also opened or are under construction in central New Jersey, where Home Depot and Williams-Sonoma have set up camp.

Meanwhile, New York's reputation as a forbiddingly expensive port has been tempered by a 1990 agreement with longshoremen that allows lower salaries for newly hired workers; half of the workers are paid at this reduced rate, cutting labor costs by $46 million just last year. On the West Coast, an 11-day strike by dockworkers in 2002 had retail executives like Mr. Markovich demanding that the ship lines increase their services to the East Coast. Since then, the flow of Asian wares into West Coast ports has become a flood; at times, as many as 80 ships are waiting to unload.

So to get merchandise to the East Coast, ship lines have invested in larger, faster ships with more powerful engines. Ships like the Hyundai Glory can move at 25 knots, instead of the 16 knots for a 1960's-vintage ship. As New York's popularity has grown, more ship lines have added direct service to the port, which might have been a ship's third or fourth American port of call.

On a nonstop route, Michaels can move sewing kits or paintbrushes from China to New York in as little as 22 days, instead of the roughly 35 days the trip took five or so years ago. That is still about three days longer than the overland route, but it costs about $300 to $600 less per container, a significant savings for cost-conscious retailers.

''Three or four years ago, nobody wanted to listen to talk about All Water,'' said Dave Akers, managing director of the Toy Shippers Association. ''The transit direct to the East Coast just would not put it in the stores in time. Now, it is fast enough in most cases to be competitive. It is a huge change.''

New York consumers who buy Asian goods are still more likely to pick up a product that landed first in California; about 65 percent of the merchandise sent last year from Northeast Asia to the Atlantic Coast arrived first on the West Coast. But that was down from 86 percent in 1999, according to an analysis by the Panama Canal Authority.

And so far, the mounting Asian trade has been largely a one-way affair. After unloading 1,120 containers from the Glory, the longshoremen reloaded the ship for the return trip. Of 667 containers to be sent back, 419 were empty, being returned to Asia to carry more goods back to the United States. Of the rest, most were stuffed with two of New York's biggest exports: wastepaper and scrap metal. This is just one manifestation of the enormous trade imbalance between China and the United States. Howland Hook itself, where the Glory landed, used to be home to a sprawling Ivory Soap manufacturing plant. What remained of the factory has been leveled to create what in effect is a giant import depot.

The Transformation: Agency Races to Meet The Growing Demand

The piers seemed a world away as 17 executives assembled around a table on the 11th floor of a Midtown office building for the 8:30 a.m. weekly Port Authority staff meeting. Yet in the head seat, wearing a tie dotted with tiny red anchors, was a retired Coast Guard rear admiral, Richard M. Larrabee, whose leadership will determine, perhaps more than anything else, whether the port is in the midst of a historic and sustainable resurgence or a fumbled opportunity.

Port officials have talked for years about investing more in the ship terminals. But the talk was based on predictions, as recently as 1999, that the number of containers passing through might start to grow by 3.5 to 4 percent a year. Now, after five years during which the average annual growth in container cargo has been 8.6 percent, those vague plans have become an urgent sprint to finish all expansion projects before the spike in traffic overwhelms the port.

Mr. Larrabee knows that several Atlantic ports, from Savannah to Halifax, Nova Scotia, are poised to grab any business that New York cannot manage.

''It is absolutely critical,'' said Mr. Larrabee, director of the authority's Port Commerce Department, interrupting a colleague who was describing the dredging of the channel that serves Howland Hook. If the ship terminal operator ''does not get deep water by the end of the year, he is going to have some of his customers looking elsewhere,'' he said.

On one wall, a mammoth map, labeled The Game, marked New York as the center of a bull's-eye with rings radiating out as far as Illinois and Canada, identifying the richest consumer market in the world, where 80 million people live within a 24-hour truck trip. Next to that, a timetable with more than 1,000 tiny boxes detailed tasks and deadlines to be met.

The Port Authority has not been the most nimble agency. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani complained that it mismanaged the city's airports. Squabbling between New York and New Jersey over how to split the port's resources has stalled construction projects, and even held up the current expansion for more than a year. Security measures after the Sept. 11 terror attack added another level of planning and expense.

But the work has begun. At Port Elizabeth, home to the authority's two busiest terminals, demand for space was so low in the 1970's and 80's that the authority leased valuable property for low-rent storage. Nearly 50 acres of those warehouses have been knocked down to make room for arriving ship containers, which are now stacked across the lots like loaves of bread at some out-of-control bakery.

At Maher Terminal, new gates -- a toll-booth-like complex where cameras automatically record identification numbers on trucks and containers -- will allow 10,000 trucks to move in or out each day, nearly double the current capacity. Nearby, dozens of construction workers spent 11-hour days last summer building an 18-track express railyard to replace the existing 4 tracks, permitting as many as 750,000 containers a year to move through by rail by 2008, compared with 230,000 last year.

Across a narrow inlet, at the Port Newark Container Terminal, the wharf has been rebuilt to handle heavier cranes and cargo. At Howland Hook, the summer brought something that would have seemed inconceivable just a decade ago: new wharves. Enough new dock space is being built to allow three large container ships to unload at the same time, and there are plans for another berthing area to handle four.

Near the spot where the Hyundai Glory was unloaded, Peter Clerkin, a mechanical engineer from Ireland, is supervising a team installing four huge new cranes, costing $6.6 million apiece. Nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty, the cranes can load and unload the new generation of ships that cannot fit through the Panama Canal. Harborwide, 19 of these cranes have been constructed or ordered in the last two years.

''We are changing the skyline of this area, for miles around,'' Mr. Clerkin said. ''These are the port's new landmarks.''

The most complicated project is re-establishing a freight-rail link between Staten Island and the rest of the country, at a cost of about $150 million. New York City bought and repaired the Arthur Kill Lift Bridge and a 15-mile spur of track a decade ago, but until now, the revival of this rail service, which should start at the end of 2005, has been no more than a dream.

But the port can expand only by moving many more containers over the same terminal space. Although the Port Authority is considering opening a new container port in Bayonne, N.J., there is little other waterfront land available with easy access to railroads and highways.

The quest for greater productivity makes the modernization complex and risky. The authority has set extremely high goals, predicting, for example, that by 2020 each acre will handle an average of 3,000 containers a year, twice as many as today. Trucks carry about 85 percent of all freight in and out of the port, so to keep from overloading the highways, the authority hopes to nearly double the use of rail by 2020.

For Mr. Larrabee, the most delicate part of his Port Authority job is coordinating the teams of contractors, agencies and corporations, stretching from New Jersey to Korea, so they finish at the same time. Dredge a deeper harbor without rail access, build a longer wharf without new cranes, construct a new rail terminal without a bridge -- miss any piece -- and the plan could falter.

''There's a lot of variables,'' he said. ''But at some point, you have to say to yourself, 'I'm willing to take the risk.'''

The Panama Canal: A Crucial Waterway Is Pushed to Its Limit

The sun had not yet risen above the lush hills that slope gently to the Pacific Ocean at the entrance to the Panama Canal. But the Hanjin Los Angeles, another in the stream of container ships traveling nonstop from Asia to New York, was already waiting at the entrance, the 11th in line one morning for the 50-mile journey between the seas.

New York was four sailing days away. Yet what was happening here, as the Panamanian pilot, Luis Prescod, climbed a ladder to board the Los Angeles, had clear implications for the future of New York's port.

With the rise of China and Northeast Asia as leading manufacturing centers, the canal has suddenly become as important as the George Washington Bridge for freight headed to New York. But while the Port Authority owns the bridge, Mr. Larrabee and his team have no say over affairs in Panama, manager of the canal since 1999.

For the moment, the canal link is working for New York, though just barely.

The Hanjin Los Angeles, like the Hyundai Glory, is a Panamax-class vessel, which is just what it sounds like: a ship built to use the Panama Canal to its maximum. At 951 feet long and 105 feet wide, the Los Angeles, once the pilot steered it into the canal's Miraflores lock, had just two feet to spare on each side and 25 feet at each end.

The Hanjin's bow bounced briefly against a bumper on the wall of the lock, prompting a ''stop engines'' order from Mr. Prescod. But because he has been performing this kind of miracle for 15 years, the trip through the canal otherwise proceeded uneventfully.

One day last year, 24 of these Panamax ships inched through, carrying nearly one million tons of cargo. The Panama Canal Authority heralded those record numbers as a sign of the canal's growing popularity. But they were also a warning that this water superhighway is closing in on its limits.

Hanjin, the South Korean shipping company that owns the Hanjin Los Angeles, has 22 post-Panamax ships, and more on order. These ships are also just what they sound like: too big to squeeze through the locks. Over the next four years, the 227 post-Panamax container ships due to be built and delivered represent more than half of the total number of container ships on order, according to Drewry Shipping Consultants of London. One Port Authority consultant, Sir William Halcrow & Partners, estimated two years ago that by 2020, two-thirds of the nation's container imports would be aboard ships too big to navigate the canal.

Their size is not the only concern. In the fiscal year that just ended, 267 million tons of goods passed through the canal, up 10 percent in one year, and closing in on the canal's capacity of 284 million tons. Traffic is so heavy that if a ship misses its crossing time, it must sometimes wait a day or longer before it can slip into the queue, delaying its arrival on the East Coast.

''The growth in traffic has exceeded all expectations,'' said Rodolfo R. Sabonge, the director of corporate planning and marketing for the Panama Canal Authority.

There is a plan to build a new canal lane, Panama's third, and a larger set of locks, a project that would cost billions and take at least a decade. The canal authority will most likely ask Panama this year to schedule a national referendum on the plan.

Even if the canal is not widened, Port Authority officials say, there will be enough trade to justify an expanded New York port. It is also possible to reach New York from China through the Suez Canal, which can accommodate even the biggest ships, although the trip takes three or four days longer.

For now, what is beyond debate is that the ships that cross the world have changed their course. That was evident on the bridge of the Hyundai Glory as it slowly pulled into New York, its crew in their bright orange uniforms standing alongside harbor pilots who sipped green tea. New York, once again in a big way, is at the top of the schedule.

''Stop engines,'' Mike Schnepp, the pilot, called as the Glory drifted the final few feet into Howland Hook. K.J. Yoo, his hand on the thruster, called back, ''Stop engines, sir.''

10,393 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
NY Times
Port of New York Imports Rise Faster Than Places to Put Them
Published: March 17, 2005

Cargo passing through the Port of New York and New Jersey set records, in both value and volume, in 2004, increasing the need for new facilities to store the incoming merchandise, government officials said on Wednesday.

Richard J. Codey, the acting governor of New Jersey, praised the gains as signs of the region's economic strength and he urged an acceleration of a $600 million project to improve rail connections at the port.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey must invest more and faster in expanding the port and linking it to the region's rail network because ''we face real competition from ports along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts,'' Mr. Codey said at a press briefing overlooking loading docks in Elizabeth.

Port Authority officials released a list of 18 properties in northern New Jersey that are potential sites for additional warehouses and distribution operations. The possibilities include a Chevron refinery in Perth Amboy and the Military Ocean Terminal of Bayonne.

The Port Authority and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority are spending $1.8 million to find and evaluate the properties.

Finding more places to prepare imported goods for sale is a priority because business at the port is rising steadily, Mr. Codey said. The total value of all of the cargo that moved through the port last year was more than $114 billion, he said, an increase of more than 14 percent from 2003.

That growth translated into more ''high-paying, high-quality jobs'' at the port and more economic activity in the region, Mr. Codey said.

What the port took in last year in foreign goods was worth about four times as much as what it sent out. All told, the 2004 trade deficit at the port was $67.4 billion, or more than one-tenth of the national deficit. In one year, it increased almost 20 percent.

The main beneficiary was China, the source of much of the low-priced clothing, toys and electronics in the region's stores. China is by far the region's largest trading partner, accounting for one of every five tons of cargo imported or exported.

Among regions, Asia has surpassed Europe as the region's No. 1 trading partner, said Robert T. Beard, who supervises research on port commerce at the Port Authority. Asia now accounts for more than 25 percent of the trade through the port, compared with 23 percent for Europe, he said.

Most of those goods come packed in 20-foot-long steel containers stacked on the decks of enormous freighters. Enough goods passed through the port last year to fill 3.15 million containers, up 11.7 percent from 2.8 million in 2003, according to the Port Authority.

Mr. Codey said the port handles more automobiles than any other in the country, a total of 728,700 last year. That was an increase of about 100,000 cars from 2003 and, surprisingly, more than half of that growth was on the outbound side. More than 97,000 cars were exported in 2004, up from fewer than 43,000 in 2003.

With a bit more chagrin, Mr. Codey added that he was standing in the nation's leading port of entry for alcoholic beverages.

10,393 Posts

929 Posts
They should call it what is really is, the Port of New Jersey.

The collapse of Manhattan's port industry has made me bitterly angry at the stupid decisions the city made in the 60's and 70's, regarding containerization.
We could have continued to maintain one of the world's great ports.

121,722 Posts
NY-NJ port activity down first time since 1993; biz leaders say slowdown intensifying
20 March 2009

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Business leaders at the Port of New York and New Jersey say the global economic crisis is slowing activity at the East Coast's largest port complex.

For the first time in 15 years, the key measure of annual container traffic there fell, according to data released Friday by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. The number of 20-foot equivalent units moving in and out of the port complex dropped by less than 1 percentage point to 5.27 million units in 2008.

The modest decrease was driven by steep declines in the final two months of last year.

Don Hamm, who runs the Port Newark Container Terminal for Ports America Group at the complex, said the slowdown is intensifying.

"I've been in the business for 40 years and I've never seen anything like this," said Hamm, a Ports America executive vice president. "It's extremely painful."

The number of loaded 20-foot equivalent units being exported from the port complex plunged 25 percent in December, while imports dropped 11 percent, according to the Port Authority. November exports were down 10 percent and imports fell 4 percent. Twenty-foot equivalent units are a standard unit of measurement for cargo containers, which come in a variety of sizes.

The steel containers are piling up around the port complex because of the decline in exports.

"This is one more indication that the Port Authority is not recession-proof," said Chris Ward, the agency's executive director.

Hamm estimated that 10 percent fewer containers and roughly half as many vehicles moved through his 178-acre terminal during the first two months of this year than the same period of 2008. The terminal typically handles about 670,000 vehicles and 500,000 containers a year, he said.

The Port Authority report comes at a time of increasing unemployment. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in New Jersey, home to most of the facilities that comprise the port complex, rose to 7.3 percent in January from 6.8 percent.

Sluggish shipping activity is idling longshoremen. Walter Arsenault, executive director of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, said 472 deep sea longshoremen went without work in February -- a 55 percent increase from the same month last year.

The port complex has 2,200 deep sea longshoremen, according to the waterfront commission.

Arsenault said his agency is now seeing days when 500 deep sea longshoremen -- nearly 25 percent of the work force -- are available but not employed.

Arsenault said he expects the slowdown to intensify once China begins to feel the reduction in global demand more deeply. China accounts for more than 40 percent of exports at the port complex, he said.

Trucking companies at the port complex are really feeling the slowdown, according to Jeffrey Bader, president of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers. The Port Newark-based organization represents 124 trucking companies that operate at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Bader estimated they haul about 70 percent of the truck-borne cargo moving in and out of the port complex.

"Across the board, we're seeing at least a 30 percent reduction in volumes," Bader said. "Survival is the issue for our members now."
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