Understanding What Puts
by David Dent
In the Business section of The Oregonian each day is a box called Port Calendar, where ship arrivals, departures and locations are posted. Ship names listed there -- such as the Maja Vestida, African Joy, Orient Hope and Humboldt Express" -- are like music to my ears. Some are irregular visitors, others are regulars to the Columbia River. To those of us in the local maritime industry, they signal employment for pilots, towboat companies, ship handlers, longshoremen, stevedores, ships' agents, port employees, freight forwarders, customhouse brokers, surveyors, bunker companies, ship repair companies and many others who are direct beneficiaries of every ship entering the river.
According to 2006 data for the Port of Portland alone, over 6,500 jobs generating $313.7 million in income result from this direct employment.
It has been my experience, however, that the general public, including local newspapers and television channels, are woefully uninformed about the happenings on our waterfront. Not long ago a local news channel was covering a story about a container vessel at Terminal 6, which is located adjacent to Kelly Point Park on the Columbia River. Throughout the story, the station's news helicopter was transmitting live over Swan Island, which is the ship repair facility on the Willamette River. I wonder how many viewers even noticed.
When the River Queen restaurant, moored along the Willamette River on Front Avenue, was open, it was always great entertainment to listen to people discussing the ships they were viewing across the river at the grain elevator. I don't think I ever heard anyone actually describe accurately what they were seeing. Most people thought they were looking at a tanker, or a U.S. Navy vessel, even a passenger ship. In fact, they were undoubtedly looking at a bulk carrier - the most common type of vessel to enter the Columbia River.
Portland is primarily a bulk cargo port. Grain is the largest export cargo, but we also export other bulk cargoes such as potash, soda ash, calcined petroleum coke, copper concentrate, bentonite clay, malt barley and others. Among our imports of bulk cargo are cement, salt, alumina and gypsum. The Columbia River is second in the nation only to New Orleans in total tonnage handled.
In addition to the bulk carriers, the river is host to numerous tankers, container, auto and break-bulk vessels and a large number of hybrid tug and barge carriers. And, of course, the rivers have a steady stream of towboat traffic, assisting ships to berths and moving barges throughout the system.
While you're having your morning cup of coffee and reading the paper, I invite you to check the names of ships listed in the Port Calendar. They represent international trade, foreign flags, foreign crews and ships that visit every port in the world. You'll begin to recognize the names of frequent callers, such as the "Express" vessels of Hapag-Lloyd Lines, "Star" ships of Star Shipping and "Westwood" ships of Westwood Shipping Lines, a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser. You'll realize that there's a lot of activity on our waterfront. And you'll find names like Joyous Society that just might sound like music to your ears.
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