Port Business Rebounds

February 02, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

Cargo handled by the Port of Baltimore rose more than 5 percent during 1993, the largest growth in business since 1989 and one that comes at the expense of rival port Hampton Roads, Va.

General cargo at the five state-owned terminals climbed from 5.15 million tons in 1992 to 5.42 million in 1993, according to a report released yesterday by the Maryland Port Administration (MPA). Virginia Port Authority this week reported a 3.5 percent drop in cargo, ending a 10-year growth spurt. But Hampton Roads still handled 7.37 million tons, a total Baltimore hasn't seen in recent history.

Virginia authorities blamed the drop-off to a 69 percent decline in steel imports and a 21 percent drop in break-bulk tonnage (cargo not shipped in containers).

In contrast, the Port of Baltimore saw a 14 percent overall increase in break-bulk cargo and a 33 percent gain in steel imports. Container traffic, which accounts for 75 percent of the tonnage shipped through the port, was flat.

"We've had a lot more success in our head-to-head marketing," said Adrian G. Teel, executive director of the MPA.

The latest figures represent the sixth straight quarter of growth for the Port of Baltimore, which steadily lost cargo to Virginia for nearly a decade, before a turnaround in 1992.

"When our port was struggling, many people said our days as a major port were over," O. James Lighthizer, Maryland secretary of transportation, said yesterday. "This turnaround shows what can be accomplished when people pull together and work hard for a common goal."

State officials frequently attribute the port's recent success to the improved relationship between labor and management as well as more aggressive marketing efforts.

The increase in cargo stems partly from new services to South America and other areas. In addition, however, the gain results from vessel sharing arrangements, such as the one among Maersk Line, P&O Containers and Sea-Land.

Before that consolidation, Sea-Land or P&O vessels called at Norfolk but not Baltimore as its mid-Atlantic port.

Following the release of its cargo statistics this week, Norfolk port officials vowed to step up its competition with other ports.

"In 1994, we need to rededicate ourselves to turning up the heat on our competition," said Joe A. Dorto, general manager of Virginia International Terminals Inc. which operates Hampton Roads. The port includes Norfolk, Newport News and Portsmouth.

The overall 13 percent rise in imports fueled the Port of Baltimore's growth last year. Automobile imports were down more than 3 percent, largely because more and more Japanese automobiles, such as Toyota, are now being produced in the United States.

Total export tonnage declined 2.5 percent. While the value of Maryland exports rose significantly last year, exports by Maryland businesses represent only a small percentage of the cargo that moves through the Port of Baltimore.

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