Containerized freight in 20- and 40-foot boxes was up 28% in the Philadelphia port in April compared with the same month a year ago, port officials said.
The U.S. import boom continued in April, with seaborne tonnage volumes up 8.9% from a year earlier in the nation's ports. Container cargo imports were up 8.7% in March, according to a report by research firm Panjiva.
"The standout performance among the smaller ports was from Philadelphia," Christopher Rogers, an analyst with Panjiva, said.
The container increases, attributable to several new shipping services at Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, have pushed the Philadelphia port's national ranking up to No. 12, just ahead of Miami and below Port Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Philadelphia handled 49,000 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, a standard measure for container cargo, in April, compared with 38,800 in April 2016. "Our growth rate is a leader of the pack," said Jeffrey Theobald, CEO of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, which owns 15 piers and terminals on the Delaware River.
With the long-awaited Panama Canal expansion completed, Mediterranean Shipping Co. last August began a weekly freight route to Philadelphia, hauling grapes, blueberries and other various fruits, and cargoes from Chile, Peru and Ecuador, said Eric Holt, whose family runs Packer marine terminal. The MSC ships sail through the larger set of Panama Canal. They are the largest cargo ships ever to come up the Delaware River.
In January, the fruit company Fyffes began shipping bananas, plantains and pineapples to Packer terminal from Costa Rica, Columbia and Guatemala. The business on SeaLand, a carrier of the Maersk Group, prompted other distributors, including Wal-Mart, to begin shipping their fresh produce here as well, Holt said.
Since February 2016, a new ocean route from the Gulf of Mexico has brought containers directly to Philadelphia carrying Samsung dishwashers and refrigerators, sugar and Corona beer.
"Generally speaking, the East Coast ports did best, with Savannah, Ga., reporting 19.4% growth compared to a year earlier and Norfolk, Va., up 14.6%" in April, the report said. "The main losers were the Puget Sound ports of Seattle and Tacoma," whose cargo volumes fell 1%, and New Orleans, which shrank by 21.3%.
The nation's largest ports for container handling are the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, Calif., followed by the Port of New York and New Jersey, which is expected to see accelerated growth later this year when the Bayonne Bridge raising project is completed and the port can handle vessels up to 18,000 TEUs from 9,800 TEUs currently.
In the past 12 months, the Philadelphia port handled container volumes of 185,560 TEUs compared with 150,443 for the same period in 2016 — a 23% increase, the port authority said.
The Packer Avenue terminal handled 27,300 lifts in April, up from 22,793 lifts a year earlier, Holt said. A lift is the taking off or putting on a ship container and is a different measure from cargo tonnage.
In April, another new shipping service to Packer terminal began with Hapag-Lloyd, Germany's top container line, and four Asian carriers that formed a vessel-sharing alliance.
The weekly service from Europe begins in Bremerhaven, Germany, with stops in Antwerp, Belgium; London Gateway; Norfolk, Va.; Philadelphia; New York; and Halifax, Nova Scotia, before returning to Bremerhaven.
Hapag-Lloyd recently announced it will use CSX Transportation railroad service out of Philadelphia to transport cargoes from ships to Chicago; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; and Quebec, said Sean Mahoney, the port authority's marketing director.