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Shipping Outlook Brightens

by Barbara Coyner, Freelance Writer
Capital Press, October 13, 2006

Channel deeping brings more deep-draft ships

A barge travels under the Red Wolf Crossing bridge at Clarkston, Wash., bound for the Port of Portland. The Columbia River transportation network allows inland producers to expand markets, particularly in Asia. CLARKSTON, Wash. - When Port of Portland Commissioner Mary Olson addressed a group of inland port customers at Clarkston, she pointed out that she was wearing white this year. The remark wasn't lost on her audience. Last year, several businesses had felt the loss of two container shippers from the Port of Portland rosters.

"We were all in black last year, but we have turned things around," Olson said.

The good news that the port has added Zim and Yang Ming lines rippled up to inland ports such as the Port of Lewiston, because the two new lines allow big players like Potlatch Corporation to get back into shipping by barge. Much of Potlatch's product is destined for Asian markets and the loss of two Pacific Rim shippers last year pushed the large forest industry to turn to more expensive shipping by truck.

Barry Horowitz, general manager of container marketing, said Potlatch was none too happy about last year's loss of shipping options and had applied steady pressure to see the lost shipping lines replaced.

Horowitz and his team scored something of a slam-dunk when they got Zim to come on board in May of this year, followed by Yang Ming in June.

Zim, an Israeli line, furnishes service to Asia and the Mediterranean, with Port of Portland its only West Coast port of call. With 13 container ships, it can carry 3,800 to 4,200 containers per ship.

Asian-based Yang Ming is expected to push up to 23,000 containers through Portland per year. The added capacity is good news for forest products and grain shippers, as well as Midwest businesses relying on inland ports as gateways to the Port of Portland and blossoming Asian markets.

"This allows the ports to have a lot of business contracts in China," said Port of Portland Marine Services Director Sam Ruda. "It returns container services to the Columbia River."

With the Port of Portland now served by seven shippers, with three focusing primarily on Asian markets, inland ports are free to reach out even more to China. Idaho exports grew 12 percent last year, with $554 million in export income a result of Chinese trade.

"China is Idaho's largest trading partner," Ruda said.

With higher fuel prices for over-the-road shipping, Ruda said there is plenty of interest in river transportation. "Things move in cycles and there is a renewed interest in the barge system. The Port of Portland is investing heavily in improvements and in April we took delivery on a third Post-Panamax crane."

The crane, delivered to Terminal 6, traveled 5,800 miles from Shanghai. It is 16 stories high, two city blocks wide, and cost $7.5 million. Ruda said another crane is on order and will be delivered in 2008.

Going into its second year of channel deepening, the Port expects to see more deep-draft vessels tie up at its docks. The dredging project factors in as one of five major river projects in the current federal budget, and will bring increased capabilities to inland ports such as those at the Tri Cities and Lewiston-Clarkston.

"Some 3.3 million short tons of grain are moving through the port each year," said Ruda. "Things are improving and we are looking forward to expanded service to Japan in the future."

Noting that the Port of Portland now reflects more of an Inland Northwest approach to river commerce, Olson explained that the Port of Portland board of directors added an Eastern Oregon member in 2001.

"Steve Covey of Pendleton provides the Eastern Oregon flavor because we consider ourselves a port of the Columbia River. Our job is to help all the ports remain economically viable. We are all in this together."

Related Pages:
1997 Container Shipping Report by Port of Lewiston
2002 Container Shipping Report by Port of Portland

Barbara Coyner, Freelance Writer
Shipping Outlook Brightens
Capital Press, October 13, 2006

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