Phila. ship cargo up 10 percent

Stevedores unload paper from a Spliethoff ship at Pier 80. The Netherlands shipper was one of three new services the city landed in the last year. Ship cargo was up 10 percent at the Port of Phila.
Stevedores unload paper from a Spliethoff ship at Pier 80. The Netherlands shipper was one of three new services the city landed in the last year. Ship cargo was up 10 percent at the Port of Phila. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 22, 2012

After a devastating recession that idled shipping worldwide, ports on the Delaware River say business is picking up - and 2011 was a growth year.

More paper, more cocoa beans, more containers, more cars - and more ships hauling it all.

Cargo tonnage is still down from the peak years 2005 to 2007, but it is gradually coming back.

At the Port of Philadelphia, cargo volume was up 10 percent, compared with a 17 percent increase in 2010.

Philadelphia landed three new shipping services in the last year.

The most recent, the Spliethoff Group from the Netherlands, discharged 8,000 tons of paper Thursday at Pier 80. It will bring 20 vessels this year with paper from Scandinavian mills Norske Skog and Stora Enso.

Total ship arrivals were 2,183 in 2011, up from 2,028 in 2010, said Paul Myhre, operations director for the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay.

In Philadelphia, "automobiles were by far the primary generator of the increase," said Robert Blackburn, the port authority's senior deputy executive director.

Piers and terminals in Philadelphia handled 3.99 million metric tons last year, - the weight of about 12 Empire State Buildings - up from 3.62 million metric tons the year before.

In all, 127,347 new Hyundai and Kia autos arrived at Packer Avenue Marine Terminal from South Korea, headed for U.S. showrooms, compared with the 68,876 that rolled off ships in 2010 after the auto-processing operation started in August of that year.

The Port of Wilmington had 412 ship arrivals, including oil tankers, a 13 percent increase over 2010, said Thomas Keefer, deputy executive port director.

Wilmington saw a 24 percent increase from 2010 in cargo tonnage - to 4.6 million metric tons.

"The largest increases were perishables, primarily fruit, and dry bulk commodities such as specialty ores, steel scrap, road salt," Keefer said.

Gloucester Terminals L.L.C. in New Jersey, privately owned by the Holt family, had 202 ships in 2011, compared with 150 in 2010. The main cargoes were fruit and steel.

"We've seen climatic shifts, especially in the seasonal fruits," said Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp. "Chile consistently for 20 years delivered fruit around Thanksgiving."

In the last two years the Chilean fruit season has been later. Now, more early winter fruit is coming from Brazil and Peru, although Chilean fruit remains "one of the major anchors" in local ports, Holt said. Industrial commodities, including steel and plywood, remain down.

At Beckett Street Terminal in Camden, 64 ships docked last year, compared with 62 in 2010, carrying bulk commodities, plywood, cocoa beans, steel, and scrap. Broadway Terminal logged 19 ship arrivals, compared with 18 in 2010, said the Maritime Exchange. Camden lost the lucrative Del Monte fruit business - 75 ships and 500,000 tons of cargo - in 2010 to neighboring Gloucester terminal.

A year ago, two shipping lines began weekly service at Packer Avenue terminal in South Philadelphia.

Coming from Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, CMA-CGM S.A.'s Black Pearl line brought refrigerated perishables - fruits, vegetables, fish - and other goods including copper.

Maersk Line launched a weekly service in February, bringing fruits and vegetables from Peru and Ecuador through the Panama Canal to Miami; Newark, N.J.; and Philadelphia.

"Philadelphia is synonymous with refrigerated cargo and the ability at the terminals to work with industry and shipping lines to expedite the movement of the refrigerated business on and off the docks," said Maersk vice president William Duggan. "All the right things are there in Philadelphia."

Container shipments in Philadelphia rose 9 percent. Paper imports were up 11 percent, and cocoa beans shot up 15 percent.

The year was not all rosy.

In July, Sea Star Line L.L.C. suspended service at Tioga Marine Terminal in Port Richmond, citing the economy and rising fuel costs. With the loss of Sea Star, which had sailed once a week into Tioga from Puerto Rico with mangoes, coffee, tomatoes, rum, and pharmaceuticals, Tioga's volumes were down.

"The other vessel calls, from Chilean Line, Rickmers-Linie, and Eukor, were all more or less as expected," said Robert Palaima, president of the Delaware River Stevedores. "But the overall number of vessel calls was roughly 25 less because Sea Star stopped calling in the middle of the year."

The Finnish paper manufacturer M-real Corp. hauled 125,000 tons of paper to Piers 78 and 80 at the foot of Snyder Avenue in 2011. Paper importer Myllykoski Corp. imported 30,000 tons of glossy magazine paper through Philadelphia. And Sappi Fine Paper North America exported 30,000 tons of coated magazine paper from mills in Maine, through Philadelphia, to Australia.

"We expect M-real to bring in an additional 30,000 tons in 2012," said John Brown Jr., president of Penn Warehousing & Distribution Inc., "and our overall numbers to be up about 10 percent."

The Philadelphia region is a hotbed for chocolate processing and manufacturing.

This month, a record shipment of 19,328 metric tons of cocoa beans arrived from West Africa's Ivory Coast to Pier 84 in South Philadelphia, destined to become chocolate, creamy icings, and cakes.

About 70 percent of cocoa bean imports to the United States come up the Delaware River, said Harvey Weiner, owner of Dependable Distribution Services Inc., which operates Pier 84.

Within 100 miles of Philadelphia are 75 percent of the processing operations that grind raw beans into cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate ingredients to make candy, ice cream, cookies, and cakes.

Last year's four-month-long conflict in the Ivory Coast stalled cocoa bean shipments from January through April. When exports resumed, more beans flowed to the United States than ever, "and it gave us an extended season," Weiner said.

The big five cocoa processors in the Philadelphia area are: Blommer Chocolate Co. in East Greenville; Barry Callebaut AG in Eddystone and Pennsauken; Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate Inc. in Lititz, Pa.; Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Hazleton, Pa.; and Mars Inc., maker of M&M candies, in Elizabethtown, Pa., and Hackettstown, N.J.

These cocoa companies, in turn, sell to confection manufacturers such as Hershey Co., Mars Snackfood, Kraft Foods Inc. on Roosevelt Boulevard, Tasty Baking Co., Asher's Chocolates Inc., and Goldenberg Peanut Chews, all in this region.

What's Up at the Phila. Port

Category                2010           2011       % change


Direct                    2,556           2,770          +8.37

Total                    4,923           5,324          +8.15


Pers. Income       $211.1       $228.3          +8.17

Business Activity    $669.3       $723.6          +8.13

Federal Taxes       $64.6           $69.9          +8.18

State/Local Taxes    $27.1          $29.3          +8.16

*in millions

SOURCE: Philadelphia Regional Port Authority

Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or

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