Bigger cranes, deeper channel can attract largest ships, more cargo to Port of Miami
By Susan Stabley
A new pair of multi-million-dollar, super-sized gantry cranes and dredging a channel can position the Port of Miami for growth and make it the state's deepest, say port and county officials.
Charles Towsley, port director, is shopping this week in Hong Kong and China for "super post-panamax" cranes - tall, fixed structures that can hoist 20- and 40-foot-long containers that carry items like automobiles or tons of boxes.
Most cargo enters Miami's seaport in containers. Little more than 3% moved as bulk, or non-container, cargo during fiscal 2002, said Diane Camacho, assistant port director for finance and administration.
The new cranes will cost about $10.5 million and the port has the option to buy two more if business continues to boom, said Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson. The machinery should arrive in 2003, giving the port 12 cranes.
The existing cranes are 100 feet wide but the new pair will span 40 more feet, necessary because shipbuilders are crafting bigger ships.
"The new generation of vessel are wider and larger and longer," Ms. Camacho said.
But bigger cranes alone aren't enough to keep the port competitive.
"Even though the wider cranes give us added capacity," Mr. Johnson said, "it doesn't give us any more depth."
Dredging on the port's southeast side will deepen the channel to about 50 feet.
"We'll be one of the few on the East Coast with that depth," Mr. Johnson said.
Competing ports include Georgia's Port of Savannah at 42 feet and Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, the deepest harbor in Florida, at 43 feet, according to the ports' web sites.
The dredging could cost $50 million to $60 million and take two to four years, said Mr. Johnson. Finding funds and getting permits are the first steps.
Port engineer Carl Fielland said parts of the channel are now being dredged from 30 to 42 feet with about a million yards of sand remaining. Taking it to a 50-foot depth is at least five years away, he said.
Federal funds are paying for 65% of the ongoing dredging, with the state and county covering the rest. The ratio of funding may change for future projects, all part of a master plan for the port, in which the county is to spend $500 million.
Container and cargo activity at the port has grown every year since 1998 except in 1999, due to Hurricane Georges and its effects on trading partners, Ms. Camacho said.
Shipments between Miami and the Middle East, southwestern Asia and Africa quadrupled in the first half of 2002, port records state. The 40,000-ton volume shipped from Miami was up 7,000 tons from the same time a year earlier. The import increase is even greater: from 24,000 to 96,000 tons from that region.
The gains offset declines in the first half of the year from South American markets. Exports to that region fell from about 619,000 tons in the first half of 2001 to about 474,000 during the same period this year. The port's traditional customer base - 62 % of total volume - is Latin America and the Caribbean.