Virginia, Georgia Ports Seek to Brainstorm How to Handle Bigger Ships, More Cargo

Luke Sharett/Bloomberg News

The anticipated arrival of larger container ships has led the Virginia Port Authority and the Georgia Ports Authority to try to put their heads together about how best to handle the logistical challenges on the horizon.

They have filed papers with the federal government seeking to team up on ways to prepare for and better accommodate the megaships and bigger cargo discharges expected in the near future.

The six-page “East Coast Gateway Terminal Agreement,” filed Feb. 24 with the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Maritime Commission, takes effect April 10, barring any requests for further information or other actions by the commission.

The Port of Savannah is the second-largest port on the East Coast; the Port of Virginia is No. 3. The ports of New York/New Jersey and Charleston, S.C., the biggest and fourth-biggest ports on the East Coast, respectively, are not part of the proposed agreement.

In listening sessions with port executives a few years ago, when congestion surged at ports around the country, commission officials asked why maritime leaders weren’t talking more to find a better way to operate, said John Reinhart, executive director and CEO of the Virginia Port Authority, in a conference call with Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, on Feb. 27.

The proposed agreement is “kind of an offshoot of that discussion,” he said, adding that it led to some preliminary conversations between the port leaders.

“The purpose of this agreement is to promote the most efficient use of port assets by permitting the parties to exchange information related to the best use of their wharves, berths and cargo handling equipment, all to the benefit of the shipping public,” the document filed with the commission states.

Pricing information is not part of the agreement, Reinhart said.

The agreement will benefit cargo owners significantly, Lynch said. It will give ocean carriers confidence to know that “you have two key ports on the East Coast talking and preparing for” ships from new alliances that are due to become effective in April, he added.

A Federal Maritime Commission spokesman said that ports are required to file “discussion agreements” like the one filed by the Virginia and Georgia ports or risk anti-trust scrutiny.

The Port of New York/New Jersey and the South Carolina Ports Authority declined to comment on the Virginia-Georgia ports’ filing.

A South Carolina Ports spokeswoman, however, said in an email that the ports of Charleston and Savannah already have a similar Federal Maritime Commission agreement in place.

“It took effect in September 2012 and allows our ports to meet and share information regarding a broad range of operational topics,” she stated.

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