Containerized freight in 20- and 40-foot boxes was up 28 percent 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 percent from a year earlier in the nation's ports. Container cargo imports were up 8.7 percent in March, said a report by the research firm Panjiva.
"The standout performance among the smaller ports was from Philadelphia," said Christopher Rogers, an analyst with Panjiva.
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 (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, chief executive officer 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. (MSC) last August began a weekly freight route to Philadelphia, hauling grapes, blueberries, 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 locks. 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 Walmart, 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 reporting 19.4 percent growth compared to a year earlier and Norfolk up 14.6 percent" in April, the report said. "The main losers were the Puget Sound ports of Seattle and Tacoma," whose cargo volumes fell 1 percent, and New Orleans, which shrank by 21.3 percent.
The nation's largest port for container handling is Los Angeles-Long Beach, in California, followed by the Port of New York 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 previously.
In the first four months of this year, the Philadelphia port handled container volumes of 185,560 TEUs compared with 150,443 for the same period in 2016 — a 23 percent 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 of 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.