Latin American Trade - Port of Philadelphia maintains competitive edge

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT
The Port of Philadelphia has long been a hub for South America goods. For well over two decades, fruit has been among the port’s largest commodities coming from South America. Robert Blackburn, Deputy Executive Director, Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA), attributes this to the port’s ability to introduce the latest technology and facilities to accommodate this trade.
“We have invested heavily in on-dock refrigeration that allows the shippers of fresh produce from South America to bring their product into the United States without breaking the cold chain and deliver fresh products from our docks to the chains stores for retailers,” comments Blackburn.
Given the fast pace of technological advances, the port finds it must constantly upgrade and stay on top of the latest technology available.
“Fifteen years ago there was very little on-dock refrigeration,” Blackburn says. “We started to add on-dock refrigeration. Then the shippers wanted more and different rooms within the same warehouse. They wanted different temperatures and wanted to increase the humidification. Once those kinds of atmospheric conditions have been addressed, it comes more in line with inventory control such as bar coding. We, as well as our terminal operators, have had to invest in the computer technology that is necessary to meet the demands of our customers.”
Port improvements
The effort is on-going. New technology continuously comes on-line for refrigerated cargoes such as those coming in from South America.
“There are also newer versions of existing technology,” comments PRPA spokesman Joseph Menta. “A lot of refrigeration is the same, but is now computer controlled, meaning it is much more controllable than in the past.”
As a result, the Port of Philadelphia is busy adding 400 reefer plugs at its Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia so that the port can provide storage capability for refrigerated containers.
“We are investing in technology to store both break bulk, as well as containerized commodities,” Blackburn says.
The new reefer plugs will not only benefit fruit coming in from South America, but also reefer cargoes from Australia-Asia markets. The port does a brisk business with these trade lanes as well.
In addition, last year the port installed two new Post-Panamax container cranes constructed by Hyundai Heavy Industries Company, Inc., that will allow the port to service the largest, most modern container vessels that call on the port from the East Coast of South America on weekly vessel sharing agreements.
The two new cranes, purchased with $15 million of state capital funding, will have the ability to reach over the biggest, widest vessels in service today, as well as load and discharge containers faster than ever before.
Increased trade
Blackburn reveals that already in the first half of 2004 the port has experienced a 23% increase in containerized traffic over the same time period of 2003.
“Not only does this percentage indicate an increase of cargoes from South America; we are receiving increases across the board,” says Blackburn.
Among the containerized steamship lines hauling East Coast South America freight to the port are Alianca, APL, Evergreen, Hamburg Süd, Lykes, Maersk-Sealand, P&O Nedlloyd, and TMM.
Cargoes arriving from South America’s West Coast largely consist of fruit and break bulk commodities.
“More is coming up in containers,” Blackburn says. “Also, on a twice-a-month basis, Bertling Line is bringing up forest products and steel products to Tioga Marine Terminal from Chile.”
Trade between the United States and South America has historically always been imbalanced. The Port of Philadelphia experiences approximately 80% imports, and 20% exports.
“We send down knocked down boxes used to repackage the fruit, some chemicals, wood products, metal ware, and used cars,” Blackburn points out. “We remain competitive because we offer quality service for a competitive price.”
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American Journal of Transportation