Container ship spotted at T6
The first container ship to call on the Port of Portland's Terminal 6 in a year arrived last Monday evening, Jan. 22.
The Shengking picked up 77 Western Star trucks and multiple containers for export. The trucks were manufactured on Swan Island. A Port spokeswoman said the containers contained finished wood products such as laminated veneer lumber (LVL).
It dropped off one container.
On Thursday, the vessel left Portland for Long Beach California, Fiji and then New Zealand. The trucks are destined for New Zealand and Australia.
The loading was performed by workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
"I understand everything went smoothly," said the spokesperson.
Now that there is no contracted operator at Terminal 6, with ICTSI Oregon terminating its contract in March 2017, the work was managed by a stevedore company, Ports America, which predated ICTSI as port operator. AllPorts, a freight forwarder, represented the shipper, the wood products maker.
Del Allen, president and owner of AllPorts, told the Business Tribune that shipping the wood products by container would save $500 to $600 per container, versus trucking them up to the sea port of Seattle-Tacoma. The trucks had been driven up three at a time on a trailer to Everett, Washington, which was also expensive.
The Shengking can carry a combination of bulk ad container cargo. It was delayed in Shanghai, China, and again in Vancouver, B.C. making it 10 or 15 days late, he said.
Delays matter for TVs and fridges, less so for steel and wood. "For consumer goods you prefer a fixed schedule" he said.
Allen praised the ILWU highly.
"They did a fantastic job, very good for not having worked this type of job for two years. There's no doubt the ILWU is committed to this type of work. Now that the law suits are all settled it's all water under the bridge."
He said ILWU pensioners (retirees) had a tent at the gate and were handing out coffee and donuts at 7.30 a.m. to welcome workers. They were saying 'We want to show how much we appreciate the work."
Allen praised the Port too for marketing itself as open for business. "Trust has been rebuilt. Port and industry leaders have never been so open and available before."
He added that labor has proved it can do the work. "I've worked on docks a lot of my life and it's easy to pick on labor, but usually it's management."
Allen said the longshoremen are just there to work now. "They we're like 'What is this cargo?' They were just there to move it. They take their orders from the stevedores and the owners of the vessel."
ICTSI Oregon and the Port mutually agreed to terminate a 25-year lease agreement to operate the container facility at the Port's Terminal 6.
For years, no cargo container boxes have moved out of the Port of Portland's Terminal 6 because of a dispute between its private operator and the union that provides most of the labor — the ILWU. According to a 2016 study, the shutdown cost Oregon exporters about $15 million a year in increased costs to deliver their products to other ports.
Since the departure of former executive director Bill Wyatt in July 2017, the Port leadership has pressed to bring work back to Terminal 6. Swire ships are expected to call in Portland every 35 days offering a mix of general, non-containerized cargo and container service The Port also in December launched a rail shuttle from Terminal 6 to the Puget Sound ports in partnership with BNSF Railway
In January 2018 consultants Advisian Worley Parsons presented the finding from a business study of how Terminal 6 can survive.
The conclusion was that Terminal 6 had better diversify and not rely on containers if it wants to be sustainable.
They said the container part of the terminal's 419 acres footprint should be reduced, and the rest given over to a mix of cargo uses (intermodal rail, breakbulk, autos).
The reasons are many: big ships of more than 10,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent container units) are the way of the future, but the Columbia River can only handle up to 7,000 TEU ships.
Consolidation is also an issue. As shipping companies merge there is less competition and less leverage for a small Pacific port like Portland to negotiate things like changes in which ports to call at and when.
Allen of AllPorts (which is named for his and his wife's last names, Allen and Portwood) remains bullish about Terminal 6. "Some are haunted by the past, but that part's done. I'm a native Oregonian and an eternal optimist."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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