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THE Northwest Seaport Alliance, the joint venture between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, has unveiled a tentative deal with Seattle-based Stevedoring Services of America to develop new berths at Terminal 5 that will be capable of taking vessels of 18,000 teu or larger.
“We have a tentative agreement and we’re still working through the details but we certainly hope to have that put to bed by the end of this month,” Northwest Seaport Alliance chief executive John Wolfe told Lloyd’s List on the sidelines of the Cargo Logistics Canada Expo + Conference in Vancouver. “We will have signed agreements with SSA for Terminal 5, along with joint-venture partner TIL.”
The twin boards of Seattle and Tacoma need to back the $340m investment, that will have a further $250m of private money invested by the terminal operators.
“It is a strategic play for us, because with the larger vessels here now we’re setting up for at least 18,000 teu ships” Mr Wolfe said. “The cranes will be the largest on the west coast, so we have to rebuild the wharf because of the weight of the cranes and upgrade the power to the terminal.”
The project will take place alongside a major deepening project for the port, taking it to 57 ft in the channel, which will make it one of the deepest in North America.
“You can have the infrastructure and the cranes, but we have an export market with lots of heavy cargo so the vessels are weighing out at maximum draft,” Mr Wolfe said.
Seattle-Tacoma has been growing but at a slower rate than some of its rivals on the Pacific Northwest and the move to accommodating larger ships could give it an edge in this hyper-competitive market, Mr Wolfe said.
“With ports it starts with having the right infrastructure, so we need to maintain that confidence with our customers that we have that terminal capability and the road and rail network to serve their needs into the future.”
Seattle-Tacoma is trying to increase its relevance to shippers by pushing its export credentials.
“But our exports are strong right now and that’s a strength for our gateway,” Mr Wolfe said. “We have a robust export market.”
Part of its strategy is to reach further into the supply chain to exporters in the upper Midwest market.
“We are exploring ways in which we can reach all the way to Chicago.”
But this again puts Seattle-Tacoma on a collision course with the likes of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, which have strong rail links into the US heartland.
But Mr Wolfe remains optimistic.
“If we can work with the shipping lines that provide the equipment and the railroad that provides the rail service, and combine that with the local export market, then we can package something together to serve that market,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting the guarantee of volumes, the guarantee of equipment and the intermodal all together.”
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February 12, 2019