Commentary: Florida feud
In the March issue article, “Tampa port’s name change,” you state that Miami is the closest U.S. port to the Panama Canal. That is true if you are talking about “airports” and measure distance by air miles over Florida and over Cuba. By the water route, Port Manatee is closer to the Panama Canal than Port of Miami. According to the on-line ship route calculator SeaRates.com, the distance from the Manzanillo Terminal at the Panama Canal to Port Manatee is 2,241 kilometers and to Port Miami it is 2,265 kilometers. A small difference, to be sure, but factoring in ship charter rates, hourly operating costs and fuel costs, even short distances are not insignificant.
Tampa is 30 miles and over three hours further north into Tampa Bay by vessel than Port Manatee which is at the mouth of the bay. The serpentine channel has stretches that do not allow for ships to pass one another, especially ships with hazardous cargo. Cargo ships also compete with cruise ships for channel transit scheduling.
Regarding the comment by Tampa officials that Port Tampa Bay is “full service,” I would like to point out that Port Manatee has a turning basin to accommodate 1,000-foot-long ships, a berth depth of 42 feet, ship-to-shore cranes, on-dock rail, seven miles of its own track and two new locomotive engines. The port also has 3,000 privately owned adjacent acres for potential future distribution centers.
Port Manatee was one of the first ports nationwide to recently receive a grant to look into dredging to 48 feet and this will not extend the 30 miles north to Tampa. It is clear that on Florida’s Gulf coast, all the future seaport potential is at Port Manatee. Port Tampa Bay is only a thinly veiled attempt to more closely associate itself with its more strategically located neighbor rather than becoming “a port too far.” If you have a fast growing competitor who is 30 miles and three hours closer to your customers, the only options available for mitigating this type of threat to your business model are to do a buy-out, force a merger or put the threat out of business.
I have become accustomed to the Tampa newspaper reporters parroting Port of Tampa’s press releases, but I have higher expectations for American Shipper magazine. Quotations misrepresenting common geography is a disservice to your readers.
Owner, Port Manatee Commerce Center (a rail transload center not affiliated with Port Manatee), Palmetto, Fla.
(Editor’s note: Other distance calculators show the distance between the Panama Canal and Miami and Port Manatee are virtually identical.)
This article was published in the May 2014 issue of American Shipper.
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