The ro/ro sector has been flat reflecting a listless global auto market. But there are signs that business could be improving very soon and the ro/ro ports are trying to get in front of the market.
Planning for the Rebound
North America has an impressive array of large, ro/ro facilities, some based in well-known hub port areas like New York/New Jersey and the San Pedro ports of LA and Long Beach. Others are located in lesser recognized port regions such as the Port of Davisville in Rhode Island or the Port of Hueneme, California.
One thing the ro/ro ports, large and small, share is they are often treated as a bit of a sideshow to the box business. While it is certainly an unfair rendering of the most versatile of seaborne services, it’s true nonetheless.
While some of the rationale of this oversight is the ubiquitous nature of the box, another is purely business. Simply, the OEM side of the ro/ro business has been flat for a long time. After a pre-recession crest in 2008 of 21.3 million seaborne vehicles shipments, according to London-based analysts Clarkson’s, the annual growth between 2013-2015 has been a tepid 1.4% with the tally yet to crack the 20-million-unit threshold. And this year  looks to be no better.
But a ro/ro sector rebound might be coming soon fed by more vehicle movements and project and breakbulk freight (see Matt Miller’s story on Whilhelmsen-Wallenius merger for comments on the potential for break bulk and project freight on page 16), and ports are trying to get in front of the trend.
No place is this more evident than the Port of Davisville Rhode Island, one of the largest, (if not well-known outside the sector) ro/ro ports in North America.
In November 2016, Rhode Island voters approved “Question 5”, a $50 million bond measure for infrastructure projects at the Port of Davisville.
With question 5 in the rearview mirror, the port embarked on the $90 million modernization plan for Pier 2. Pier 2 is central to the modernization plan for the Port of Davisville. Pier 2 is an earth filled cofferdam cell structure built by the US Navy in 1956. It was designed to last 50 years, a period that has come and gone. The pier is the primary facility in the Port of Davisville and due to its style of construction [earth filled rather than timber supported], it is the pier best suited to handling heavy “deck” project cargo. In addition, the pier is the easiest to expand into another berth allowing multiple vessels to berth simultaneously. Also, the increased size will enable the port to handle the new generation of Pure Car Carriers (PCC)...
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