Brownsville port hopes to gain from Panama Canal expansion
Sunday, April 04 2010 @ 03:28 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
“The expectation is that shipping activity is going to increase in the Gulf,” he said. “If that happens, then we all have a chance to benefit. But we all have to go after our niches and our markets. Part of that will be watching the market to see what it’s doing.” While the Port of Brownsville might catch some business by servicing feeder cargo lines that in turn serve bigger cargo operations, don’t expect to see an armada of mega-vessels suddenly appearing in the Brownsville ship channel, Campirano said. “We’re not going to be seeing 8,000 container vessels coming to the Port of Brownsville,” he said. “There are a handful of ports in the country that handle 80 percent of the container business. Probably that’s not going to change.”
Instead, the port will focus on assets such as its year-old, short-sea shipping service, which transports cargo inside containers on barges between Brownsville and Port Manatee, Fla. Demand is enough that SeaBridge Freight, which operates the service, is considering adding a second barge to the route, Campirano said. The port’s goal is to continue to diversify the cargo mix while finding ways to keep the containers full, not just en route to Florida but on the return trip as well.
“Most of the product is being hauled from Brownsville to Manatee as opposed to the other way around,” he said. “The key is: What can we bring back?”
Campirano concedes the container-on-barge service isn’t a huge moneymaker for the port. In fact, the Port of Brownsville — because it’s just now breaking into the container business — intentionally charges a lower container-handling fee compared to Houston and other large ports with established, thriving container operations. At the end of the day, though, it puts people to work, which is the important thing. “Where we make the money is more on the services that are offered: wharfage, stevedore services, using the facilities, agents, hauling, trucking, etc.,” Campirano said. “It keeps these guys busy. It keeps them employed.”