By Todd Karpovich | Photography by Bill McAllen
On any given day, Seagirt Marine Terminal is teeming with ships and workers as cargo arrives from all over the globe.
Whether some of the world’s largest container vessels disembark mid-afternoon or in the middle of the night, the Port of Baltimore efficiently meets their needs and gets them on their way for the next exotic destination.
The public-private partnership (P3) between the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and Ports America Chesapeake (PAC) has been the foundation of that success.
That synergy is also a model for the international maritime industry, paving the way for infrastructure improvements and record-breaking performances.
“Many P3s fail or struggle, but this one remains very strong. We are now in our ninth year, and we are seeing record results. We continue to communicate and work together closely with PAC to successfully market the strengths of this Port and our region,” said Jim White, Executive Director of MDOT MPA.
“In 2010, the concept of a public-private partnership between Ports America Chesapeake and Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration presented a great opportunity,” said Mark Montgomery, CEO of Ports America Chesapeake. “This model of the public and private sectors working together to grow the Port’s business and put private funds to work has proven more successful and productive than either party could have imagined.
“Ports America continues to work closely in concert with MDOT MPA to market the Port of Baltimore. Seagirt Marine Terminal has seen volumes grow at 8 percent since the building of Berth 4. Our vision of ‘build it and they will come’ has come to fruition and provided benefits for all concerned, especially our customers and the various Beneficial Cargo Owners,” he said.
In January 2010, MDOT MPA and Ports America began a 50-year public-private partnership lease and concession agreement for Seagirt Marine Terminal. Ports America runs the daily operations at Seagirt and has built a 50-foot container berth under the agreement, accompanied by four state-of-the-art Neo-Panamax cranes.
Daniel Hackett, a partner of Hackett Associates, an Alexandria, Va.-based maritime consultancy, said public- private partnerships can be financially beneficial. The ever-increasing size of container vessels provides cost savings to the shipping lines as their economies of scale decrease.
However, their arrival at ports can trigger additional costs on the land side.
“If a container terminal wants to avoid losing calls, they have to ensure that they are ‘big ship ready,’ and while the largest 20,000-TEU vessels are not calling at U.S. ports yet, we are definitely seeing the 13,300-TEU class ships,” Hackett said. “That means infrastructure upgrades may be required, from dredging channels to purchasing Neo-Panamax cranes with increased height and width capabilities. This is not cheap, and so the public-private partnerships help ports and terminal operators to share some of the costs. This is especially important for some of the smaller landlord ports.
“Ultimately it’s a win-win situation, as the local and regional economy benefits from the business impacts associated with a successful port operation, from jobs to tax dollars, while the terminal is able to leverage funding sources that make their own capital investment budgets go further.”
Ports America has invested heavily in other necessary infrastructure at Seagirt, saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars it would have had to invest in capital improvements.
In June 2012, Seagirt received four new all-electric, high-efficiency, Neo-Panamax gantry cranes that can reach 22 containers across, in addition to the existing seven cranes at berths 1-3, which were modified to handle ships 18 containers across and can trolley to the new berth.
The new Berth 4, with a 50-foot draft and a 1,200-linear-foot, became fully operational ahead of schedule and under budget the following year. This impressive new dock can handle 14,000-TEU vessels.
In addition to the Berth 4 Project, Seagirt has storage areas directly behind the berths, which increase the productivity for loading vessels and discharge operations. The berths have impressive truck turn times that average less than 30 minutes for single moves and 60 minutes for double moves.
From August 2012 to August 2013, Seagirt had a 5.8 percent increase in business and successfully executed more than $142 million in equipment and environmental initiatives.
Last year, Seagirt Marine Terminal installed six new yard cranes that help relieve the traffic congestion that results from the record-setting amount of cargo that passes through the Port. The 325,500-pound rubber-tired gantry cranes were purchased for $12 million and are used to move and stack containers on the docks.
Those gantry cranes were added to a fleet of 16 others that were already in service. The additional infrastructure helps workers at the Port to more efficiently expedite cargo and allows trucking companies to move through the Port much quicker, which is cost-effective.
“We’re very big on the roll-on/roll-off side, and Baltimore is the main East Coast port for this service,” Atlantic Container Line (ACL) CEO Andy Abbott said. “We’re very big in the Midwest and the Ohio Valley, and Baltimore is a gateway to that part of the world. The Port treats us extremely well. We’ve known all of the people for a long, long time. They’re easy to work with, and we get everything solved.”