Thomas Insights: A Day in the Life of the Port of Baltimore


July 08, 2022

Dear Subscriber,

Below is an article on the Port of Baltimore that ran in Thomas Insights, a leading supply chain industry news source.  We appreciate the efforts of everyone in our supply chain.

A Day in the Life of the Port of Baltimore
By Emily Dreibelbis

Running a port is a business: the better the technology, the smoother the operations — and the more ships that choose to dock there. At the Port of Baltimore, where the Evergreen ship was infamously stuck for nearly a month before being freed in April 2022, it’s no different. Millions of dollars in equipment and technology upgrades aim to attract the largest, most sophisticated vessels. Meanwhile, running the port is a 24/7 operation. 

Every Item Imaginable Passes Through This Port

The Port of Baltimore is a large complex with six marine terminals. The Seagirt Marine Terminal is the main ocean container port; it’s the one the Evergreen had departed from. Within Seagirt’s 284 acres are four berths (or docks) and 134 acres of outside storage.  Every item imaginable comes through — clothing, sports equipment, baby formula, kitchen supplies, you name it. According to a port representative, the facility’s main goal is to get these goods to retailers like Amazon, Target, and IKEA as fast as possible, so these major businesses can then fill empty shelves.

An Average of 53 Ships Dock Per Month

Anywhere from one to four vessels visit the port per day, at an average of 53 per month so far in 2022. But the ships can hardly just show up. Shipping companies arrange an arrival time with Seagirt marine managers via email in advance.  The port also needs to know the size of the ship, measured in “TEUs,” or 20-foot equivalent units (one unit is one container). The largest ships today hold 14,000 TEUs, or an unfathomable 14,000 containers on just one ship.

Most Vessels Come from Abroad

Today, ships of all sizes arrive at Seagirt throughout the day and night. They pay fees upon arrival, and then typically stay at port for about a day for unloading.  Almost all vessels come from abroad. Baltimore may be their first “port of call,” or first stop, or it might not be. Some ships have already stopped at Philadelphia, Boston, New York, or Virginia.

Unionized Dockworkers Handle Loading and Unloading

To prepare for the vessel’s arrival, the port requests the required labor from the International Longshoremen’s Association, a national dockworker’s union. “Longshoremen” is a broad term for people who help load and unload a ship.  Among them are equipment operators, “lashers” who secure the containers so they do not fall off mid-ocean transit, and crane operators who handle the gigantic machinery required to lift containers on and off ships.

New Super-sized Cranes Are the Future of Shipping

Ports around the world are in a race for the latest crane technology, a representative from the Port of Baltimore said. They’re called “Super-Post-Panamax” cranes, to be used on “Super-Post-Panamax” cargo ships — the ones that hold 14,000 containers.   The future of shipping will increasingly rely on these behemoth vessels, which are long enough to reach across 22 containers and then unload two at once. In fall 2021, Seagirt received its second shipment of four of them. Shortly after their arrival, President Biden gave a speech with the futuristic cranes in the background.

A Public-Private Partnership Funds Port Upgrades

Aside from the cranes, accommodating them requires digging out the berths where the ships dock to be at least 50-feet deep, and doing the same to the waters nearby. These upgrades come with a hefty price tag, so in 2009 the Maryland Port Administration signed a $1.3 billion deal with private company Ports America Chesapeake (PAC).  The cash will help enlarge the Seagirt Marine Terminal, making it one of four East Coast ports that can accommodate Super-Post-Panamax ships, according to the PAC website. PAC also signed a 50-year lease, becoming the official operator of the Seagirt terminal.

On-site Railroad and Truck Depot Distribute Goods on Land

After the vessel unloads, mobile cranes with rubber tires to move around the yard transport the containers to the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF), where countless trucks and six trains pick them up daily. The 68-acre ICTF is a major source of efficiency for the port. Plus, major East Coast highway I-95 is just a mile away, and it connects directly to I-70, which runs into the Midwest. To optimize truck pickup and departure times, the Seagirt requires trucks to display a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag.  This collects and stores information about who the truck driver is, the company they work for, what containers they picked up, how long they were at the port, and additional information. The data is reviewed by the port itself, the truck carriers, and government agencies.

 Summer and Fall Before the Holidays Is Peak Season

In the upcoming summer and early fall, the port will enter peak activity as retailers prepare for the holiday season. It will be the first big test for the port’s new e-commerce-focused shipping line with the company ZIM, which provides express service from China and Southeast Asia directly to the Port of Baltimore.