By Tina Irgang Leaderman
As ports along the West Coast struggle with unprecedented levels of congestion and delays, the Port of Baltimore and its partners have stepped up to minimize disruptions for importers and exporters.
During the recovery stages of the pandemic, the Port has received nearly 50 “ad hoc” ships — vessels diverted to Baltimore that were not on a regularly scheduled service call.
For example, in mid-December, the Port welcomed the vessel Noble Ace, which discharged 1,800 new Mercedes-Benz vehicles, including approximately 600 that had been scheduled to be unloaded on the West Coast. The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), Ports America Chesapeake, Mercedes-Benz and the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) teamed up to prepare to handle the increased volume.
“The men and women of the ILA have put in extra hours and braved the pandemic to keep the cargo moving,” said Scott Cowan, President of ILA Local 933. “They have put in around four million man-hours last year, the most since freight was unloaded by hand.”
The Mercedes-Benz shipment is among several recent strides made by the Port of Baltimore to help address supply chain issues. The Port has also begun handling fuselage components of the Airbus A220 series of aircraft, working closely with shipping firm Wallenius Wilhelmsen and logistics partner Louis Dreyfus Freight Solutions. Components are being loaded at the Port of Dalian in China, coming through the Panama Canal, and heading straight to Baltimore. From here, the parts then go to an assembly plant in Canada.
In addition, the Port now handles Kubota farm and construction equipment on roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) vessels instead of container ships due to supply chain issues. Japan-based Kubota is one of the largest manufacturers of farming equipment in the world.
“Cargo continues to move through the Port of Baltimore,” said MPA Executive Director William P. Doyle. “Our creative ro/ro solutions for cargo and strong e-commerce abilities, combined with our efficient warehousing and distribution markets, are making us an extremely attractive option for cargo owners to avoid supply chain issues at other ports. We look forward to continuing to work closely with all of our partners, including our great truckers, to bring cargo through Maryland.”
For the state’s truckers, Ports America Chesapeake — the private operator of MPA’s Seagirt terminal — has proved a good partner in difficult times. “Despite lower volume and COVID-related staffing challenges, Ports America did all they could to maintain staffing levels at Seagirt,” said Armand Patella, Executive Vice President at the Maryland Motor Truck Association. “This allowed them to keep loading our trucks with imports in a timely fashion. They also extended and expanded gate hours well through the holiday season.”
Meanwhile, Maryland’s trucking companies adopted creative solutions in their own right to keep serving customers. “Many have rearranged existing yard space or acquired additional acreage in order to store backed-up cargo and equipment from COVID-affected warehouses,” said Patella. “Right now, our biggest challenge is a lack of container chassis. This is a nationwide issue having a severe impact on the supply chain. Seeing this coming, members went out and either purchased or leased their own wheels so they could offer their customers ‘trucker’ chassis when things got tight.”
New Cranes, Howard Street Tunnel Point to Bright Future
Several recent developments position the Port to play an ever-growing role in alleviating global supply-chain disruptions. In September 2021, MPA and Ports America Chesapeake welcomed four additional ultra-large Neo-Panamax cranes. The cranes are now becoming operational.
“The new cranes at Seagirt are higher, faster and more technologically advanced” than previous models, ILA’s Cowan said. “These machines will move more containers and tons of cargo per hour, which increases efficiency. That will equate to more carriers wanting to call Baltimore.”
Ernie Ferguson, VP of Sales and Marketing for Port customer MTC Logistics, agrees. “I think that the future is bright for the Port. Between the excitement with the new Panamax cranes that arrived in the fall, plus the beginning of the Howard Street Tunnel project, the Port is positioned for the future and for explosive growth.”
A groundbreaking was held for Baltimore’s Howard Street Tunnel expansion project last November.
The project will expand the CSX-owned tunnel to allow for double-stacked container rail cars, clearing a longtime hurdle for the Port. The project is expected to increase the Port’s business by about 160,000 containers annually. It will also generate about 6,550 construction jobs and an additional 7,300 jobs from the increased business.
Tradepoint Atlantic Bets on Onshoring
The global trade disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic have shone a spotlight on the importance of supply chain resiliency, said Aaron Tomarchio, EVP of Corporate Affairs for Tradepoint Atlantic, the multimodal shipping and logistics hub adjacent to the Port’s public marine terminals.
“I think that dynamic fueled an increase in activity here at Tradepoint Atlantic,” Tomarchio said. “Companies are looking to fix those gaps in their supply chain, and they’re doing it by trying to find facilities to expand within the market. When the pandemic was in full swing, a lot of our bulk storage yards were full of material. It just piled up, but then as the pandemic progressed and business started coming back, there was a demand for those materials. Now, inventory is flowing out as fast as it’s coming in, so the velocity of goods transiting Tradepoint Atlantic has increased tremendously.”
Another side effect of companies trying to fix supply-chain gaps has been a desire to “onshore” the production of key commodities. At Tradepoint Atlantic, two major players in the emerging offshore-wind industry — Ørsted and US Wind — are building facilities to produce components needed for the sector. In mid-March, Tradepoint Atlantic also announced the pending opening of a medical manufacturing facility.
“That facility is going to support the onshoring of critical PPE,” Tomarchio said. “In particular, they will be manufacturing nitrile gloves that are used in healthcare. So what we’re seeing here is a reflection of our national conversation on the importance of onshoring critical products.”
Local Companies Stepping Up for Customers
Many local companies have implemented creative internal solutions to help their customers navigate the supply-chain crisis.
Canton-based Ace Logistics provides warehousing, transportation, fulfillment and packaging services for clients in the retail, transportation, minerals, consumer goods and food-service industries, among others. To keep disruptions minimal for this diverse group of clients, Ace has taken a number of steps, said Alec Hajimihalis.
“We have expanded our footprint and added several more buildings — currently eight and counting — in an effort to help our customers accumulate and store a reasonable inventory level,” he said. “We have added several drop yards for containers, in close proximity to the Port. This is a huge advantage to importers because shipping lines are bunching containers on one vessel vs. spreading them out as requested. When too many containers arrive on the same vessel, it is difficult to dray, unload and process in a timely fashion. Our objective is to minimize the additional expenses that are associated with the current instability in the supply chain. Additionally, we are working with higher-volume clients to develop strategic pricing programs that will help them remain competitive in today’s market.”
Meanwhile, MTC Logistics operates in the temperature-controlled space, which has made delays even more problematic. “A ‘reefer,’ or refrigerated container, is going to have a genset [generator] that keeps it running after it’s unplugged from electricity at the Port,” Ferguson said. There has been a shortage of gensets, so “we invested at our facilities in approximately 60 electrical plugs so we’re able to expedite containers out of the Port without the gensets.”
The fact that MTC Logistics’ Baltimore facility is located within a mile of Seagirt’s gate has been tremendously successful in managing that transition, Ferguson said. “We can plug the reefers in at our facility and manage without the customers having to wait potentially for a genset and demurrage charges accruing.”
Olive oil company Pompeian also has benefited from its proximity to the Port. “We’ve recently expanded and continue to expand our footprint in Baltimore and California to keep up with consumer demand, investing in more storage, production lines and warehouse space,” said Mouna Aissaoui, EVP and COO. “On the East Coast, we have new production lines that allow us to produce larger bottle sizes, and we’ve also done a significant expansion of our Baltimore campus to encourage a more communal work environment for employees. Our connections across the globe, coupled with our advantage of being a Baltimore-based company with access to a world-class harbor, have put Pompeian in a unique position to mitigate supply chain issues.”
Praise for the Port
Local companies explain how the Port has helped them keep cargo moving and business growing during the global supply-chain disruptions.
“The Port of Baltimore has seen tremendous growth over the past several years. That has really placed a spotlight on Tradepoint Atlantic and the Mid-Atlantic region. I would expect to see continued growth in this area as we add additional capacity with the Port of Baltimore and as the expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel progresses. It will just continue to drive interest in this market and continue to grow it. I don’t see the Mid-Atlantic or the Port of Baltimore slowing down anytime soon.”
– Aaron Tomarchio, EVP, Corporate Affairs, Tradepoint Atlantic
“We’re not seeing the congestion in Baltimore that you read about at a lot of other ports like New York/New Jersey and Norfolk. Our truckers are able to get in and out, whether they’re picking up a loaded container or returning an empty container. That certainly helps keep calls down and keeps flows going. Ports America Chesapeake has just been a fantastic partner. They are very responsive in talking with us and trying to find solutions.”
– Ernie Ferguson, VP of Sales and Marketing, MTC Logistics
“Ace Logistics and the Port of Baltimore have an excellent working relationship. Both organizations have assembled a group of professionals who are passionate about servicing their clientele and passionate about supporting the Port. We are in constant dialogue daily and discuss and work through concerns and questions. Ports America upper management is very attentive to our Port community’s needs and works proactively to remain current with container volume. MPA’s marketing team are the best in the industry. They are responsive, supportive and they are willing to participate in our effort to continuously market POB/Ace services.”
– Alec Hajimihalis, Owner, Ace Logistics
“The Port of Baltimore is a huge and historic centerpiece to the Pompeian success story, allowing us to move containers and vessels very effectively since 1906. More recently, it’s become even more instrumental — with the inaccessibility of our Long Beach port, the Baltimore port is now our port of choice for not only our Maryland facility but our Montebello facility as well. And with a majority of our raw materials being imported from around the world, our growth model relies heavily on the performance of the Port. In the year ahead, we look forward to working closely with the Port of Baltimore to ensure supply of high-quality olive oil is prioritized across the nation. Our partnership with the Port is central to our operations and we’re so grateful for the support of their hard-working team, who never fail to accommodate or pick up the phone to talk through challenges and solutions.”
– Mouna Aissaoui, EVP and COO, Pompeian