While the arrival Monday in the Port of Wilmington of the first-ever 12,000 TEU vessel was a milestone itself, Paul Cozza sees the choice of ZIM to dock its new-Panamax category cargo ship in Wilmington as a spyglass view of things to come.
“When this ship came in yesterday, it was the largest capacity vessel we have had. We are continuing to upgrade [the port] so we can take 14,000 TEU vessels,” Cozza, CEO of the N.C. State Ports Authority, said Tuesday. “As we increase the width of our turning basin, we can take longer ships – we hope, by the end of the year.”
TEUs, or 20-foot equivalent unit, are equal to the average size of a cargo container. With the expanded size and depth of the Panama Canal, a new generation of larger ships, ranging from 12,000 to 14,000 TEUs are transporting more freight and, said Cozza, have greater logistical efficiency.
The new arrival, the Kota Pekarang, is operated by ZIM in partnership with the 2M Alliance which links Asia to Wilmington, N.C. Ports announced in a news release. Asia is the largest source of cargo ships bound for the Port of Wilmington via the Panama Canal, according to Cozza.
The successful handling of the Kota Pekarang, he added, is an advertisement for the Port of Wilmington’s capabilities that he hopes will attract more shipping lines. He also hopes it sends a message to major retailers like WalMart, Lowe’s Home Improvement and Home Depot that their imports can be processed through Wilmington.
“We’re continuing to invest. [Shipping lines] want to know we’re with them now and in the future. That’s why we are investing as a state, and why it makes sense for Mersk and others to put their big ships in at the Port of Wilmington,” he said.
Cozza underscored the critical importance of the $200 million investment from the N.C. General Assembly and the cooperation of state and local officials in advocating for the ports. State funding has enabled the ports’ recent purchase of three neo-Panamax cranes as well as three major construction projects: berth enhancements, container terminal overhaul and the newly approved turn basin widening project.
Speaking of the neo-Panamax cranes, the newest crane is off its ship and on the berth. It is fully erected and will undergo testing for the next 30 days or so before it becomes functional, according to Cozza.
While ports in neighboring states continue to invest at higher rates, Cozza said he believes that the Port of Wilmington offers real benefits that many larger ports do not.
“There is an underserved market, a huge volume of business that has been flowing to other places,” he said, explaining that Wilmington can answer shippers’ needs for efficiency and quick turnaround times.
“What we hear from cargo customers is that we have a high level of service and speed,” he said. “We have the fastest [turnaround time] on the East Coast and the Gulf. Savannah, for instance, is much bigger, but large does not mean they carry the same level of service.
“Fresh produce: They want to be in a port where they can get fast turnaround. We’ve had a 30% year-over-year growth in produce,” Cozza said. “Refrigerated goods, we’ve tripled and are up over 20% so far this year.”
Transportation from the Port of Wilmington to markets will improve soon, Cozza said. He pointed to the planned groundbreaking this month for CSX’s planned intermodal terminal in Rocky Mount. That facility will have a direct economic impact on cargo shipping through the Port of Wilmington, officials have said.
Rail connection between the port and Charlotte is due for an upgrade as well.
“Starting July 1, we’ll have improved rail service to Charlotte, including overnight service,” Cozza said. “We are hearing from textile companies in and around Charlotte that are looking forward to changing from trucks to rail.”