The Northwest Seaport Alliance, a partnership between the Puget Sound ports of Seattle and Tacoma, is still a work in progress. But the early returns are trending upward.
How is the fledgling the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the marine cargo operating partnership of the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma, performing in the hand-holding arrangement launched in August 2015? Gains in cargo tonnage and profits are still small, but they do point upward.
“It’s performance has been great, actually,” said Tara Mattina, the Alliance’s communications director.
Formed in August 2015, the alliance is a marine cargo operating partnership of the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma that created the fourth-largest container gateway in North America. Under a port development authority, the first of its kind partnership in North America manages container, breakbulk, auto and some bulk terminals in Seattle and Tacoma. It unifies the two ports’ marine cargo terminal investments, operations, planning and marketing activities to strengthen the Puget Sound gateway and attract more business opportunities to the region.
With a full operating year under its belt, the former rivals “have embraced collaboration for the betterment of our gateway,” said John Wolfe, chief executive of the alliance. “Considering the continuing trend of larger vessels sailing from even fewer ocean carriers, the competition within the maritime industry is tighter than ever.” While the alliance has its work cut out for itself, “I believe in the power of two,” he said
Although the alliance is focused primarily on the container business, it’s not a merger because the two home ports still exist and are still beholden to the citizens of the respective counties. Before the alliance collaboration the two ports were “trading customers back and forth for quite some time,” noted Mattina.
Combined, the alliance’s container volume grew 1% in its fiscal year to a total of 3.7 million TEU. A late Lunar New Year impacted February volumes as shippers moved cargo in advance of the holiday.
Total container volume rose 6% in February of this year, compared with the prior year for a total of 279,488 TEU. Total February international container volume was up 7.4% to 233,643 TEU
Import volumes gained 13.4% from the prior year to 125,000 TEU. Exports increased 1.3 % to 108,638 TEUs. Alaska’s volume was down 2.4% due to soft market conditions. Hawaii volumes through the Pacific Northwest were up 7.8% because of improved market conditions.
The alliance received four new ZPNC super post-Panamax cranes for its Pier 4 Husky Terminal that’s being reconfigured to align with an adjacent pier, creating one contiguous berth capable of working two 18,000 TEU container ships simultaneously. It already handles 13,000 TEU vessels. The project is a strategic commitment to modernize the terminals to handle the bigger ships of the future. One of them, the Zhen Hua 28, a 761-foot-long heavy lift ship, carried four of the West Coast’s largest container cranes to the Port of Tacoma in February.
The alliance plans to modernize Seattle’s Terminal 5 to make it “big ship ready.”
“On the cruise side of the business, we’re expecting the biggest cruise ship on the West Coast will be home porting at the Port of Seattle this season,” said Jordan Royer, VP for External Affairs with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, The 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss arrived in Seattle in May. “This year will be the second in a row that we will be handling more than a million revenue passengers, the most we’ve had since cruises started in Seattle about 20 years ago.”
Sue Coffey, director of business development for the Northwest Seaport Alliance, said the organization’s chief executive traveled to Washington, D.C. to pitch the Alliance’s impact. “Agricultural exports are very important to our region so we’re staying close to that,” she said. “We’re optimistic about the size of the trade barriers or tariffs. We’re also optimistic about the year, that we’ll do well with both imports and exports in the transpacific trade.”
Last year, Coffey said, was “good” for the alliance. “We’re evolving for growth, doing a lot of terminal investments. We have a couple of new lines coming in May.” A new string begins in May from THE Alliance, composed of Hapag Lloyd, Yang Ming and “One” Japanese lines. Since April 1, the three lines are called ONE, for Ocean Network Express.
“We’re optimistic the alliance will do well with both exports and imports in the transpacific trade,” Coffey said.