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Port Miami

Call it rocking PortMiami


By Rick Eyerdam

There has been a change in the lexicon of cargo carriers and cruise operators calling that Dodge Island port on Biscayne Bay. No longer the Port of Miami, it is now called PortMiami.

Director Bill Johnson recently told a sold-out ‘state of the port’ luncheon: “At PortMiami, business as usual is not business as usual. The many projects now under way and accomplishments I am about to describe prove that PortMiami is rocking. 


“At PortMiami a new era is upon us – and with it a new look,” Johnson told port stakeholders. He spoke about the port access tunnel, under construction; the nearly completed near-dock, the Florida East Coast railroad track; and the long-awaited Deep Dredge. 


The tunnel seems to be a done deal, with only three questions remaining. Which law enforcement agency among the half dozen in South Florida will police the tunnel? Which emergency responders will respond if an accident should occur under Government Cut? And how difficult will it be to control heavily loaded container up and down the tunnel’s extremely steep gradient?

The Deep Dredge, permitted by the Corps of Engineers to 50 ft, also faces some rocky questions asserted in a court challenge by a coalition of environmental activists and the millionaires who occupy an island hideaway next to the planned explosions and excavation. The conservationists are concerned about adverse impacts on fish and sea grass. The wealthy are worried that the dredge charges might damage the foundations of their high rises.

The rail line has generated little a controversy so far because none of the slow freight trains have followed the newly reconstructed tracks through the most dense section of downtown Miami, stalling traffic on all roads but the Interstate. 


But PortMiami has a long history of overcoming community consternation. “There are some who are trying to slow us down,” said Johnson. “I can assure you, we remain committed to the timeline that will have our channel at minus 50 ft come 2014.” 


Responding to the environmental challenge, he said: “This is a federal project managed by the Army Corps. I can assure you they, along with our port and the State of Florida, are committed to protecting our most important natural asset – Biscayne Bay and the surrounding ecosystem. Our dredge project has been studied for more than 10 years and meets the highest environmental standards.”


Opportunity to grow

Johnson told the luncheon: “The one thing we cannot do is delay the dredge – unless we are willing to pass up what’s been called a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow our economy.”

As for the new rail line, which is 80 per cent complete, Johnson said: “No major port can be successful without on-port and on-dock rail. Time to market – that’s the bottom line for everyone in this room who moves product – the shippers, logistic providers, freight forwarders.”

Johnson praised the port partners for sustaining productivity amid the constantly changing access and construction projects on the port and a mercurial trade economy beyond.

“Again, we are on top as the number one container port in Florida,” he said. “Nationwide we are Number 11, up from Number 13 a couple of years ago. I am pleased to report that cargo traffic increased seven per cent last year—a solid performance given the ongoing economic difficulties in the global marketplace. This follows a five per cent increase the previous year.”

Johnson, in his sixth year as port director, said: “By any measure, PortMiami has navigated well, very well, through a very tough economy. In the four-year period since 2008 – when the recession hit hardest – teu [handled] at our port increased 9.2 per cent, more than many major container ports. We outperformed New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Houston, Charleston and our neighbour up the block, Port Everglades.”


Praise for Seaboard

Johnson singled out non-union Seaboard Marine for praise among the three PortMiami cargo terminals. The dedicated terminal surpassed both the common-user terminals.

“We continue to make significant improvements to the yard used by Seaboard Marine, our largest shipping line,” he said. “Seaboard posted a record last year at PortMiami, moving in excess of 400,000 teu, more than 40 per cent of our business. Thank you, Seaboard – we value our partnership. 


Then he immediately said: “At this time, I would like to recognise some of our other critical partners in growing the business, starting with ILA Local 1922 and 1416. In August, Local 1416 will celebrate its 75th anniversary at our port. You play a vital role in growing our business.”

PortMiami’s largest score in the recent years has been among the cruise ship companies.

“No other cruise port in the world comes close to matching our cruise passenger traffic,” said Johnson. “In 2011, for the fourth year in a row, 4 million plus cruise vacationers passed through our port.”

He asserted the challenge to Port Everglades, again proclaiming: “PortMiami has long been known as the Cruise Capital of the World – and it will always be the Cruise Capital of the world.”

To make the case, Johnson cited:

• Three additional cruise lines, some of the best names in the business, are coming to our PortMiami.

• Regent Cruises, a market leader in the luxury segment of the industry, announced that is relocating its operations to PortMiami in the fall of 2012.

• An agreement with MSC Cruises, which is making PortMiami its exclusive home port, beginning in the fall of 2013.

• Disney Cruise Lines makes its debut in December 2012 when the ‘Disney Wonder’ sets sail from PortMiami.

• Reaching a long-term lease with Royal Caribbean, thus ensuring that the company will keep its headquarters in the port through to 2021. 


The expansion of the PortMiami cruise fleet will include three new ships still under construction in Europe: the ‘Celebrity Reflection’, the ‘Carnival Breeze’, and the ‘Oceania Riviera’. These new vessels will rank among the most exciting and innovative in the world.

 “Globally, only four new ships will be introduced in the US this year,” said Johnson, “and three will come here to PortMiami.”

The Miami port director said part of the attraction was the just-completed $3 million upgrade to a ‘boutique terminal’ used by luxury lines.

Also under way is a $15 million expansion of Terminal D, which serves the port’s largest customer, Carnival Cruise Lines.