By John Gillie, May 23, 2013, The News Tribune
The Port of Tacoma’s container traffic numbers, a key measurement of the port’s prosperity, have jumped by nearly 35 percent in 2012’s first four months, new figures from the port show.
The port’s terminals handled 617,076 container units through April. That compares with 458,477 in 2012.
Much of the credit for those bigger numbers goes to the Grand Alliance, a consortium of four shipping lines that moved to the Port of Tacoma from the Port of Seattle last July. The four container lines, NYK, OOCL, Hapag-Lloyd and Zim, share ships and capacity in the transPacific container trade.
For April, that container traffic was up 28.2 percent over April 2012.
Containers are the rectangular metal boxes carrying goods that are stacked atop one another and locked together aboard ship for their trip across the Pacific. Containers typically are 40 or 48 feet long, but container traffic is measured in TEU’s, 20-foot equivalent units. One 40-foot container thus is two TEUs. When the container shipping business began, containers were 20 feet long. The containers got bigger, but the 20-foot unit of measurement persisted.
Containers are carried to their inland destinations by truck or by trains that can carry two containers stacked on atop the other in specially-designed cars.
Other categories of the port’s business were also positive for the year through April. Log exports were up 63.9 percent. Grain shipments increased by 6.8 percent as the U.S. auto market awakened. Gypsum, a key ingredient in wallboard, was up 61.7 percent as the housing market showed signs of warming.
But two categories of the port’s business likewise were down. Breakbulk business fell 23.3 percent in April after a spectacular rise in the last 18 months. Grain exports dropped 39.2 percent as foreign buyers went to other countries for grain after last year’s disappointing harvests in the Midwest and Great Plains.
The container numbers should continue to show big gains through May and June, but those volume increases will likely diminish or disappear in July. That’s the month the baseline numbers rose because of the Grand Alliance’s arrival in the Port of Tacoma.