Port Volumes Rising; No Impact Yet From Suez Canal Disruption

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Mar 26, 2021
N.C. Ports volumes are rising despite impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
N.C. Ports officials have said port volumes are improving after feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Port of Wilmington is trending above what was expected for this time of year in both refrigerated cargo and intermodal cargo through the Queen City Express, Brian Clark, N.C. Ports executive director, said Thursday. 

Clark gave a recent update on port activities, including Port of Wilmington volumes, during the monthly meeting of the N.C. Ports Authority on Thursday.

“As of last week, our refrigerated container volume is tracking about 19% over budget. If you recall, early in the year, our volumes were dropping off because of the COVID impact,” Clark said. “We've seen a very recent surge of volume both import and export. And on our intermodal rail volume, we’re actually tracking at 31% over budget. The business development team and the ops team have been doing a tremendous job, generating new leads handling volume, and delivering the levels of service that our customers are expecting.”

The intermodal growth has been over the Queen City Express, an intermodal rail connection with Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX that runs between the Port of Wilmington and the Charlotte Inland Port in Charlotte.

Meanwhile, volumes to the Port of Wilmington are not yet seeing any impact from the latest problem in the shipping world; the grounding of the large containership the Ever Given, which is operated by Taiwan's Evergreen Marine.

The container cargo vessel became pinned sideways across the Suez Canal, effectively blocking the navigational channel. Attempts are being made to get the vessel moving.

National news reports suggest the economic impacts of the blocked waterway, which carries some of the world's shipping trade through the canal instead of navigating the long journey around Africa, are mounting.

Ports officials, however, said in an email Friday that “there’s no impact to us in terms of the Ever Given situation.”

A portion of the shipping trade from Asian Trans-Pacific services to the East Coast goes through the Suez Canal, said Hans Bean, chief commercial officer at N.C. Ports.

The recent block of the canal is something that gives N.C. Ports a "door opening" to some new supply chains and a chance to provide customers with alternative and redundant backup solutions to some of the issues facing the global shipping trade today, he said.

This disruption, along with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and West Coast delays, is pushing some global companies to bring in more requests in evaluations for network redesign and stress testing to N.C. Ports; more so than in the past decade, Bean said.

“From a positive standpoint, we are in the market, providing those options and mitigation solutions. At the same time,” Bean said. “I think it's definitely the inflection point for a lot of businesses.”
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