State of port bleak as cargo business continues drop
By Lou Ortiz
As in 2006, the Port of Miami sputtered as an economic engine in 2007, with a downward spiral in the tons and containers the port handles, including the number of ships that dock there.
In the State of the Port address last week Port Director Bill Johnson called the facility "an economic powerhouse supporting South Florida's economy."
One of a couple of bright spots for the port last year was the total of its gross revenues of nearly $92 million, 4.5% higher than in 2006 at $88 million, port statistics show.
The number has been inching up since 2005 when the port grossed $85 million.
"The challenges have never been greater," said Mr. Johnson, who took the helm of the port in 2006, during his port speech on Feb. 25.
On the cruise ship side, Mr. Johnson said the port expects "2008 to be another banner year with a projected 3.94 million" passengers. But the projection is still shy of the port's high of 3.96 million cruise passengers in 2003, which plummeted by 11.6% in 2004 to 3.49 million.
Last year the port handled 3.78 million cruise passengers, up 1.5% over 2006, an increase of 55,951.
Mr. Johnson mentioned that the port's "number one priority is growing the business." But the 2007 numbers don't show it.
For six years in a row, the number of ships docking at the port has declined from a high of 2,531 in 2001 to 1,622 in 2007, port statistics show.
The most ships to visit the port were in 1999 when 2,600 docked there. Among them were 1,031 cruise ships.
Mr. Johnson called the facility "the cruise capital of the world." However, the port has not come close to matching the 1999 cruise ship numbers. The port also posted a decline in the number of cruise ships that docked there last year, totaling 713, down from 756 in 2006.
The tons of imports and exports the port handles have also fallen for two successive years.
In 2006, the facility handled 8,654,371 tons of cargo, down 8.6% over 2005. Last year the tonnage was down 9.5% over 2006, totaling 7,835,132.
The number of 20-foot containers the port handles and ocean transportation companies use to carry goods has gone down as well over three of the last four years.
The port handled a high of 1,041,483 containers in 2003, before dipping by 3.1% in 2004, and recovering slightly by 4.5% in 2005. But the numbers plummeted 7.4% in 2006, totaling 976,514, and again last year by 9.4% to 884,945.
"Competition is fierce around the globe," Mr. Johnson said. "On the cargo side of the business, the competition is not only domestic but includes growing international trade centers, including Panama, Cuba, and other ports to our south."
He said that China was the port's leading trade partner for the third year in a row in 2007, and imports totaled 56% and exports 44%.
Of those imports and exports, 27% is with Asia and the Far East, 18% with the Caribbean, South America and Europe, and 16% with Central America.
Mr. Johnson, who considered himself a good administrator and not a maritime expert when he was tapped for the job by County Manager George Burgess, told the audience: "I look forward to being back with you next year to report on our progress."