The N.C. Ports Authority has signed an agreement with a container shipping service to replace deliveries to and from Asia interrupted by the bankruptcy of Korean shipper Hanjin Shipping.
Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co. began shipping to the Port of Wilmington Oct. 7, bringing one container ship weekly there. Hanjin, the world’s seventh-largest container shipping concern, had also delivered weekly cargo to Wilmington before declaring bankruptcy this summer.
The direct shipments of wood products, hardware, clothing and other merchandise pass through the newly expanded Panama Canal and take about one month to arrive in North Carolina. That shipment picks up and drops off goods in the Chinese ports of Qingdao, Xingang, Ningbo and Shanghai and Busan in South Korea, en route to and from North Carolina.
“Our inclusion in this rotation not only improves our visibility in international trade but also ensures the businesses that rely on us will have that much needed connection to Asia,” Paul J. Cozza, executive director of the N.C. Ports Authority, said in a prepared statement.
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Wilmington receives other container ships from Asia, but they are not direct and take longer with stops in Mexico.
The collapse of Hanjin constituted the largest container shipping bankruptcy in history, according to JOC.com, an industry publication. Nearly 3,000 creditors are seeking more than $800 million from the Korean shipper, JOC.com reported.
The N.C. Ports Authority also is affected by the bankruptcy. Ports Authority spokesman Cliff Pyron declined to specify a dollar figure but said Hanjin owes “significantly less than $1 million” to the organization. Hanjin accounted for $3 million, or nearly 8 percent, of the Ports Authority’s revenue last fiscal year.
The N.C. Ports Authority is in the midst of an ambitious upgrade expected to exceed $100 million. The Authority recently expanded a turning basin to accommodate larger container ships that can pass through the expanded Panama Canal, and is adding a second shipping berth to dock the larger class of vessels. The Port of Wilmington has a total of nine berths, two of which will be able to accept the larger vessels traveling from Asia through the Panama Canal.
Authority officials are focused on competition from larger Southeastern ports in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina that accept more North Carolina-bound cargo than enters directly through North Carolina’s ports.
The Port of Wilmington moved nearly 300,000 cargo units, each equivalent to 20 feet, in each of the last two fiscal years. That represents the Authority’s two most successful years in its history. Still, Wilmington’s container shipments are at half capacity as the port can handle 600,000 units of cargo. The Authority’s five-year strategic plan, implemented last year, calls for expanding its share of North Carolina container market by doubling Wilmington’s container business by 2020.
Two million cargo units are imported and exported from North Carolina every year, but most are trucked to ports in other states for shipment.