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Container ship service returning to Portland

Only major West Coast city without container shipping service across Pacific Ocean

By Conrad Wilson

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Published on November 13, 2017 8:45PM

A view of a cargo container ship at the Port of Portland is seen in this file photo taken in April 2011.

EO Media Group file photo

A view of a cargo container ship at the Port of Portland is seen in this file photo taken in April 2011.

More than a year and a half after the final ship sailed following a bitter labor dispute at Oregon’s only international container terminal, container ship service is poised to return to the Port of Portland in January.

It’s the port’s final push at demonstrating to global carriers and the region’s shippers alike both that there’s a market and that labor conditions have improved between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and its employer.

“Is this our last, best hope? Probably,” said Port of Portland CEO Curtis Robinhold. “I’d say it’s far from hopeless. We have some really good options. We just need to make it work and everyone needs to do their part, from labor to the port to the shippers.”

Starting in January, Hong Kong-based Swire Shipping will start calls at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6, roughly every 35 days. The route takes goods from Portland to Australia and New Zealand, and then onto China, with a possible stop in South Korea before returning to Portland.

The deal was finalized last month during Gov. Kate Brown’s trade mission to Asia. Brown and Robinhold met with Swire executives in Hong Kong.

The new container service is “going to give more options to Oregon companies as we work to maximize Terminal 6,” Brown said in a statement. “Strong trading partnerships and access to global markets allow our Oregon businesses to grow, helping to sustain a thriving statewide economy.”

In 2014, some 8,000 containers moved through the Port of Portland, taking agricultural goods from around the Northwest to Asia and European markets.

Containers were packed with crops like peas, beans and lentils from eastern Washington and central Idaho’s Palouse region, barged down the Columbia River and trucked, with hay, from the Willamette Valley.

The region’s shippers imported things, too. Fred Meyer grocery stores served as a solid base. But the region’s small businesses relied on the port, too, bringing in goods designed in cities like Portland and manufactured in Asia.

In March 2015, the region’s container service changed dramatically. First, South Korean-based Hanjin pulled out. Shortly after, German-based Hapag-Lloyd said it too was done with Portland. Together, the two carriers represented between 95-99 percent of the Port’s container service.

In May 2016, Washington-based Westwood Shipping announced it would no longer make its monthly calls at the Port of Portland. Westwood’s decision left Portland the lone major West Coast city without container ship service.

The carriers complained it was taking too long to load and unload ships because of a nearly three-year local labor dispute between the ILWU and its then-employer, ICTSI Oregon.

Being about 100 miles upriver from the coast, Portland is already a tough sell, compared to the bigger ports of Seattle and Tacoma. The added local labor challenge proved not to be worth it to the carriers.

Full story on OPB’s website.


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