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Florida ports

From cruise to cargo Florida ports connect region

Huge investment in port infrastructure to enhance Caribbean services

Florida’s ports provide a lifeline to the many islands, large and small, in and around the Caribbean basin. At least 10 ports across the State of Florida do business with Caribbean nations. From fruit and vegetables to movie sets, the ports, shippers and their customers have built upon business relationships that span generations.

“Florida ports have had a long relationship of trade with the Caribbean nations and are proud to count them as some of our most valuable partners,” said Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council.

According to maritime consultant David Matsuda, former head of the US Maritime Administration, ports, shipping companies and ferry operators are preparing to serve Cuba.

Florida ports

“Changing markets are driving infrastructure and service decisions for ports and shipping companies,” said Mr Matsuda. “There is particular excitement about Cuba.”

New facilities are needed to handle increased cargo and passenger traffic; to berth the larger ships that can be expected with the widening of the Panama Canal; and to serve emerging markets.

Mr Matsuda applauds the State of Florida. “Overall, Florida is one of the only states that have invested in their ports, leading to additional federal dollars as well,” he said. “They are cutting edge in this regard. In order to better serve our partners, Florida has seen more than US$2 billion invested in public and private dollars in seaport infrastructure and we are pleased to have seen many improvements to efficiency and connectivity at our ports.”

According to Ellen Kennedy, assistant director for communications at Port Everglades, the Caribbean is one of the port’s most important markets. “The Caribbean makes up 32 per cent of our total containerized cargo trade,” she said. “This equates to 2,220,568 tons of cargo or 237,317 teu. Our largest cargo trading partner is by far the Dominican Republic.”

Largest market

Jim Pyburn, director of business development at Port Everglades, said: “Cruise is our biggest source of revenue, with 36 per cent, and cargo is second with 23 per cent. The Caribbean is our largest market for cruise and second-largest for cargo after Central America.”

Mr Pyburn went on: “We’re the largest perishables port in the State of Florida; and the Dominican Republic – our largest Caribbean trading partner by far – grows a lot of those fruits and vegetables. We have a large cold storage warehouse and perishables handling facility; we can accommodate all of the customs and agricultural inspections; and we can fumigate if needed. We get it in and get it out, because fresh items have a limited shelf life.”

The islands rely on Florida ports for groceries, furniture and even automobiles. “The majority of the islands are not self-sufficient,” said Mr Pyburn. “We can send them everything they need – everything from soup to nuts. If you see it on a grocery store shelf, or sit on it in your hotel room, it probably came through here.”

Inbound shipments from the Caribbean include rum, with a growing number of artisan brands. Clothing is a big import, due in large part to the free trade zones in the Dominican Republic. Fabrics, yarn and other textiles are sent there and finished products are returned.

From Port Everglades the cruise ships go to popular destinations such as Mexican ports along the Yucatan peninsula and down to Belize, the Caymans, Jamaica, the Netherlands Antilles and over to the eastern Caribbean islands.

“Our cruise traffic is focused on the Caribbean, which represents the largest cruise market in the world,” said Mr Pyburn.

Ms Kennedy said Port Everglades was carrying out major upgrades to accommodate larger ships, in part because of the widening of the Panama Canal.

Big ship ready

PortMiami is the well-known brand for the Miami-Dade Seaport Department of Miami-Dade County. It has a close working relationship with partner Florida East Coast Railway (FEC Rail). Together they posted an increase of 15 per cent in containerized cargo movements for the 12-month period to September 2015. The recent opening of FEC Rail’s on-dock intermodal rail service now provides access from PortMiami to 70 per cent of the US population in four days or less.

Latin America and the Caribbean make up PortMiami’s largest trade region and account for half of the port’s volume, with 13 per cent of the total cargo being traded with Caribbean destinations.

Looking ahead to the widening of the Panama Canal, PortMiami is gearing up to provide more direct connections with Asia. Dredging operations are making the channel deeper and wider. The port’s new super post panamax gantry cranes can work cargo vessels up to 22 containers wide, nine containers above deck and 11 containers below. To ease congestion, a new fast access tunnel links the port directly with the interstate highway network, thus reducing turnaround time for both imports and exports.

“We are big ship ready,” said Andria Muñiz-Amador, director of public affairs and communications for PortMiami.

The cruise business is huge in Miami; and PortMiami, located in Biscayne Bay in the heart of downtown Miami, is the ‘cruise capital of the world’. The city is a tourist destination in itself and Miami International Airport is one of the country’s largest, with convenient connections for cruise passengers.

Caribbean cruise traffic patterns are seasonal, driven by the winter season with a focus on November through April. Miami is a key regional home port for cruise ships serving the Caribbean and Bahamas. Royal Caribbean, for example, announced it will invest US$ 100 million to build a new cruise terminal at the port, with total investment to reach US$ 250 million over the full length of the project.

The port is dedicated to operating Florida’s number one container port and the world’s leading cruise port in a way that supports sustainability.

Ms Muñiz-Amador noted that PortMiami is surrounded by a natural environment that includes sea grass and marine life in Biscayne Bay and surrounding ecosystems. That includes a major relocation project and managed coral habitat area; monitoring of over 40 acres of mangrove restoration at Oleta River State Park; and efforts to relocate trees from construction areas.

Environmentally friendly

Peter Keller, executive vice president of TOTE, says his company is investing in new ships, container equipment and port facilities in the US and Puerto Rico.

“We’re first to the market with new environmentally friendly LNG powered containerships,” said Mr Keller. “We have made infrastructure investments at our terminals in Jacksonville and San Juan to handle these new ships."

The two 3,100 teu Marlin-class containerships have been delivered from NASSCO in San Diego. The first, ‘Isla Bella’, arrived last year and the second, ‘Perla Del Caribe’, in February of this year. They will primarily serve Puerto Rico, with weekly sailings. Transit time is about two and a half days.

“Jacksonville is our port of call in Florida and our partners at JAX LNG are working with us to build an LNG liquefaction plant at Dames Point,” said Mr Keller.

The first LNG bunkering took place on 9 January 2016 when the ‘Isla Bella’ received about 100,000 gallons of the fuel at JAXPORT. The bunkering was overseen by TOTE Maritime’s sister company, TOTE Services, which manages the vessels.

Tim Nolan, president of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, said: “We are very pleased with the results of this initial LNG bunker event and know that the use of LNG in our Marlin-class vessels will provide unprecedented environmental benefits both here in Jacksonville and in Puerto Rico.”

Lights, camera, action!

Crowley has experience with both traditional and unusual cargoes. It recently shipped production-related cargo to the Dominican Republic for the Netflix movie ‘The True Memoirs of an International Assassin’. The cargo included all types of movie props, from wardrobe and vehicles to special effects materials and even a helicopter.

Mark Miller, Crowley’s vice president for corporate and marketing communications, said most of the props had been dispatched from Port Everglades. They included seven SUVs, a helicopter and seven containers with props used as weapons and ammunition, make-up, wardrobe and filming material. After filming, the gear will be packed up and shipped back to Port Everglades.

Crowley also shipped all the equipment required to stage Cuba’s first major rock concert, the Rolling Stones concert in Havana.

Crowley has also served Cuba since 2001 (and from Port Everglades since 2006) providing weekly services – originally to Havana and these days to Mariel – with food products, medical, agricultural and humanitarian supplies. It’s only one port and the shipments are one-way. Nothing is sent northbound. All shipments have been on a cash basis, but trade is expected to grow when shippers can conduct business on credit.

Crowley also has two LNG-fueled con-ro (container and ro-ro) ships under construction, designed specially for service between the US and Puerto Rico. The Commitment-class con-ro vessels, named ‘El Coquí’ and ‘Taíno’, will use clean LNG as their primary fuel. This will offer a 38 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions per container as compared with existing fossil fuels.

To support Crowley’s fuel needs, Eagle LNG will build a natural gas liquefaction plant in Jacksonville with a capacity of 200,000 gallons per day (87,000 gallons per day initially). This facility is due to enter service in early 2017.

“This state-of-the-art engine technology will add efficiency while continuing to reduce impacts on the environment, one of Crowley’s top priorities,” said John Hourihan, senior vice president and general manager, Puerto Rico Services.

Helping hands

Florida ports have been a lifeline for the Caribbean when disaster strikes.

When the 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, a significant part of the humanitarian assistance and disaster response originated in Florida. The US Navy provided airlift and sealift assets, including 21 Military Sealift Command vessels, as part of Operation Unified Response, carrying personnel, equipment and supplies to help the people of Haiti. Much of the logistics support was managed by the Navy’s Fleet and Industrial Supply Center (FISC) Jacksonville and staged from JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal and Naval Air Station Jacksonville.