MSC Monterey arrived today at Terminal 5 in West Seattle, the first international-cargo ship to call there since July 2014. The expansive terminal hasn’t been idle all those years – it’s seen controversy with oil-drilling rigs as well as more-routine use such as domestic cargo via Matson – but the biggest activity has been the first phase of the half-billion-dollar “modernization” project. Now that phase of work is done and the first berth is in service. The Northwest Seaport Alliance invited news media onto the dock this morning for a quick (and soggy) look.
Two of Terminal 5’s giant cranes – which arrived last June – are being used to unload MSC Monterey; terminal operator SSA Marine‘s T-5 manager Dana Brand explained the other two aren’t in use because the carrier wants to stay a few days, rather than a quick in-and-out. This ship isn’t utilizing all of the newly opened berth’s capacity in other ways, either – for one, it’s a 6,500-TEU (container equivalent) capacity ship; a much-bigger and newer ship – MSC Virgo, 15,000 TEUs – will be here in a few weeks. That ship will use shore power, unlike this one. Also of note, this ship’s containers are all going out by truck, not by rail, though the latter will be used later this month.
Trucks move quickly through an automated gate – potentially seconds for what used to take minutes, including the efficiency of a central control for all three active Seattle terminals – 5, 18, and 30. And the second phase of T-5 work includes moving the gate complex further into the terminal, so there’s more on-dock room for queueing, taking pressure off the roads leading in. For even more efficiency, negotiations are under way toward direct ship-to-train offloading – that would require ships to be loaded in a way that groups all the containers set for a particular destination, which isn’t the way it works now.
Today’s mini-tour included key maritime-industry reps made available for media interviews. We asked Rich Austin, president of ILWU Local 19, what T-5’s opening means for his union’s local workforce, which had dozens of people working at T-5 today.
Terminal 5 now has a second berth to be modernized, and SSA has to decide whether to lease that one too. We talked with SSA Marine executive Edward DeNike and NWSA CEO John Wolfe about what’s next:
Terminal 5’s opening will take some pressure off the supply-chain backlog, DeNike acknowledged, though right now the maritime backup isn’t too bad around here – DeNike said three ships are waiting in this area, compared to more than 140 in Southern California. Prior to the berth opening, T-5 has been in use for months as extra container storage; the number of extra containers there is now down to 3,000, from a peak of 11,000.