“Flooding the Wide, Wide Open Seas”

In our last commentary we mentioned China’s claim that some of their ports move an average of 12,000 TEUs per acre annually. According to a recent article in Charleston’s Post and Courier, this figure is far in excess of the 4,200 TEU throughput achieved by the terminals at the Port of Charleston, the best the East Coast has to offer.

But let’s talk about throughputs in U.S. ports as compared to throughputs in Chinese ports because analysts are overlooking a very important point. They’re comparing apples with oranges and causing the U.S. ports to appear to be even worse off than they are. Here’s why.

China’s so-called “throughput” flow is directed away from the port … to the wide, wide open seas where there are no supply line constraints. Chinese ports could, in fact, double or even triple their numbers if required to do so. The only “constraint” in this regard is that the demand for what they supply has yet to require such an increase in seaward throughput flow. As demands steadily increase, Chinese factories will produce more supplies to accommodate this demand, and Chinese ports will push out containers at an even more rapid rate than the published 12,000 TEU figure. There’s no reason why they couldn’t. There are no impeding constraints in the wide, wide open seas.

But at that point the U.S. ports will still be stuck with their low, low throughput rate, and pressure on the entire U.S. supply chain will be even more severe than it is now. The truth of the matter is that conventionally-structured terminal operations are maxed out. There are no magic bullets available to this primitive concept, and U.S. ports have painted themselves into a corner. As long as we’ve referred to the Port of Charleston, let’s discuss that particular situation.

Charleston hovers around the 2 million TEU mark annually and in recent months has discussed the possibility of handling as many as 4 million TEU over the next decade or so. What was once one of the world’s most beautiful natural harbors now has all the appeal of a junkyard. The Wando Welch Terminal, as well as terminals at Union Pier, Columbus Street, and North Charleston have all deprived this site of its natural beauty. But it doesn’t stop there. Privately acknowledging that 4,200 TEU is a maxed out figure, officials have attempted, unsuccessfully, to include Daniel Island in the mix, have even embroiled themselves with SSA, Georgia, and even the courts, over a terminal site in Jasper County, and are also setting their sights on a terminal at the shuttered Naval base They still don’t see the difference between China’s unrestricted outward flow of containers and the constraints peculiar to an inward flow of containers. Tsk, tsk. With our patented system retrofitted in just one of Charleston’s terminals, the others could be closed down and the land could be given back to those communities that originally owned it. That harbor would become beautiful again.

Someday maybe, out of sheer desperation or government edict, industry officials will find it necessary to evaluate our patented system of container handling. Let’s hope that this innovative idea originates in the minds of U. S. officials and not officials overseas. Otherwise that would be an international humiliation. Our patents have been underfoot for a number of years, you know, and some embarrassing questions about the failure of U.S. ports to capitalize on them will be raised.