Michael A. Leone, port director at the Massachusetts Port Authority, who will retire
at the end of this week, said one of his goals when he took his current job in 1998 was to attract a service between the Far East and Boston for New England shippers.
When the CKYH Alliance started a trans-Panama service to Boston 2002, it was a "great accomplishment," he said.
"Not that they had to use it, but now they had options," Leone said. New England shippers could now avoid the cost of draying cargo by truck or moving it by rail or barge from the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Also important, he noted in an interview with American Shipper
, was "keeping that service through the global cyclical conditions."
Expanded service from Mediterranean Shipping Co. has also been a positive for the Port of Boston, he said. MSC now operates two weekly services through Boston - one to North Europe and the other to the Mediterranean. And the Med service, Leone said, handles a lot of cargo from Southeast Asia that is transhipped through an MSC hub in Portugal.
"Our goal as a regional port is to keep our trade-dependent companies in the area and not change distribution centers so they can be competitive," he said.
Boston, Leone explained, does not attract "a lot of discretionary cargo. We handle New England freight," moving within about 120 miles of Boston.
But the six Northeast states - Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut (though he ceded it's tough to compete with the Port of New York in Southeast Connecticut) - attract about 700,000 TEUs of cargo, and are a good, affluent, consumer market. Only about a third of that moves through Boston, so he thinks the Port of Boston has potential to grow, including the ability to attract a direct service from Southeast Asia. The port did have a trans-Suez service from the CKYH alliance, but it was discontinued last winter.
New England affluence has also been attractive to the cruise industry. The Port of Boston now attracts ships making over 100 calls a year - and has four ships homeported in Boston: Norwegian Cruise Lines' Norwegian Dawn
, Holland America’s Maasdam
, Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas
, and Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Glory.
Leone said Boston has upgraded both its cruise and cargo terminals. The channel, which had silted up and was only 35 feet deep, was restored to 40 feet, and the berth deepened to 45 feet. The port can handle ships drawing more than 40 feet by taking advantage of a 9 foot tide.
"You have to be prepared to handle larger ships. The workhorse ship is no longer the 3,000-TEU ship. If you only have a 40-foot channel, which we have now, it is not going to be long before you have difficulty handling," he said.
The port has a pending study
before the Army Corps of Engineers to further deepen its channel.
"I don't think every port has to see 12,000- and 14,000-TEU ships, but I think we have to be prepared to handle 6,000- and 8,000-TEU ships. So that is why we have some additional post-Panamax cranes and we have added more yard equipment and purchased some land, because despite the talk of having a hub and spoke system for years, you are seeing more and more lines trying to capture a market. We've had MSC here for 20 years, we've had COSCO here for 10 years and we have to be able to service those customers and they are going to start bringing in larger ships, because that is what they are going to be handling."
Leone does not expect megaships from the Far East moving through Panama Canal will call Boston directly, but he said the port may see larger ships moving from Caribbean transhipment hubs.
"That maybe the model that we are preparing for, and that gives us the benefit, as well, of collecting some South American freight," he said. "I think every port needs to be able to handle the 6,000 TEU and 8,000 TEU, because I think that is what we are going to see as the workhorse going forward."
The port has handled a 6,700-TEU ship, said Leone, but it was lightly loaded.
The Port of Boston has seen a number of attempts by carriers to serve it with feeder services using both barges and ships, most recently by American Feeder Lines
"It is a concept that makes a lot of sense in the classroom, but economically it has not seemed to work out very well," he said. "I think they need to find ways to change the economics, and whether that is a federal policy. And we need some help on the shipbuilding side in order to be able to compete." - Chris Dupin