As one of the oldest ports in the United States, the Port of Baltimore “has game”, as they say.
The seaport has a distinguished history, beginning in 1706 when it became a point of export for Maryland tobacco products to England. In 1794, construction of Fort McHenry began as protection for the Port and City. During the 18th century, the Port was at the center of activity as our nation began developing trade with China. During the War of 1812, at the base of one of Baltimore’s early port locations, Locust Point, Fort McHenry played a role immortalized by Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner. At the Battle of North Point, during the same period, not far from what is now Dundalk Marine Terminal, volunteers helped stem a part of the advance of the British on Washington, DC. During the 1950’s, the Port was the subject of a popular local television show hosted by then newspaper reporter, Helen Delich. The title of the show, “The Port That Built a City”, featured subjects that were impacting the growth of the Port of Baltimore, and maintained quite a following for a Sunday afternoon. Ms Delich went on to become Chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission and soon after, a Maryland Congressional Representative. She continued to be an avid supporter of the Port and in 2006, as the Port celebrated its 300th Anniversary, the State of Maryland honored her memory, naming the Port “The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore”.
Today, the Port is a mix of both public and private facilities that surround the historic sites. The state owns the largest portions of the Port of Baltimore, managed by the Maryland Port Administration, part of the Maryland Department of Transportation. Access from the open sea to the Port, a 50 mile steam up the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, features a 50’ deep channel. The 50’ channel depth was completed to benefit the Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point, then Baltimore’s largest employer. Bethlehem Steel became one of Baltimore’s largest importers as well as exporters, in addition to its activities as a shipbuilder during World War II. Today, Bethlehem Steel is no longer operating at the facility.
There are two 50’ berths in the Port, one at the Sparrows Point ore pier and the other at the Port’s largest container terminal, Seagirt Terminal. The berth at Seagirt is capable of handling today’s neo-class container vessels.
One would think that the length of time spent by vessels transiting the Bay to the Port would be a detriment. However true from the perspective of the vessel operator, there is a tradeoff for the shipper set by a significant “in-land cost advantage”. Based upon the Port’s proximity to the industrial Midwest, exporters and importers sought the Baltimore advantage.
The Port’s marketing program, as well as excellent cargo handling and effective in-land transportation combined to turn the ocean disadvantage into a huge inland distribution advantage. In the mid 1800’s, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad established a direct connection at Locust Point. During later years, other railroads followed, positioning themselves throughout the Baltimore waterfront. The B&O also modernized, expanding coverage to other facilities throughout the Port. With these links, the transport of export and import cargo including import and export automobiles, trucks, vans and agricultural, industrial and construction machines require less transit time and consequently lower inland freight costs to or from the Port. Container traffic also grew.
Responding to the inland advantage, the then Maryland Port Authority developed facilities at Dundalk Marine Terminal, formerly the City’s main airport. In the 1960’s the facility became the Port’s main ro/ro and container terminal. At Dundalk, a 550-acre terminal, waterborne cargo volumes that included containers, ro/ro, import and export vehicles, and general cargo grew quickly. During this period, North side Locust Point was also actively handling general cargo with the installation of two 70 ton “Whirly” gantry cranes with 360-degree outreach and capacity.
In the area originally called Seagirt, SeaLand Service began container operations at their private terminal. SeaLand has long ceased operations and the Port of Baltimore has exploded with a number of new facilities including: a major container terminal at Seagirt, not far from Dundalk; facilities at south side of Locust Point, and a cruise terminal handling 90 cruises and 193,000 passengers per year. A facility adjacent to the passenger terminal handles a large portion of the paper products moving through the Port. In addition, a new terminal, across the harbor, in an area called Fairfield Masonville, was created to handle the massive import and export truck and automobile business spilling over from Dundalk Marine Terminal. Adjacent to rail and highway access, the Fairfield facility continues to expand its services.
Seagirt Marine Terminal, a stone’s throw from Dundalk Marine Terminal, has developed into Baltimore’s major container facility. The terminal offers 275 acres and is equipped and managed by Ports America Chesapeake. Since January this year, Seagirt has handled 923,000 tons of cargo, a 14% increase over 2016. There are eleven container gantry cranes, seven post-panamax, and four new super post panamax. The newest cranes are capable of working some of the world’s largest container vessels. The facility connects with Baltimore’s 50’ deep main channel, via a 700’ wide access channel. The access channel to the facility was recently widened in 2015 to handle the new class container vessels, and water depth at one of the berths was increased to 50’ alongside.
Ports America recently announced that they will increase their container handling capacity at Seagirt, purchasing six new Kalmar RTGs scheduled for delivery in January of 2018. These new machines will join their present fleet of 12 Konecranes RTGs that have been operating since the facility opened and four 2000 vintage Kalmars. It is reported that the Bromma spreaders on four of Konecranes RTGs will be replaced with RAM spreaders, a first for RAM in the Port.
The Port of Baltimore and Ports America announced that they plan to expand Seagirt when the Port acquires a large office complex adjacent to Seagirt. The Port will convey over 30 acres to private terminal operator Rukert Terminals and retain 70 acres as part of the expansion project. The additional land is needed to handle the rise in cargo since the widening of the Panama Canal. Over 70 acres of this new land will be paved for container storage.
Rukert Terminals, a privately-owned terminal operator located not far from Dundalk, has been in operation for over 96 years handling bulk and general cargo. With crane capabilities including a Liebherr mobile harbor crane, Ruckert plans to expand with land that they will purchase from the Maryland Port Administration. Rukert Terminals facilities are capable of handling a variety of general and bulk cargoes including the majority of road salt utilized in the Baltimore area.