Captain’s Corner – Focusing on the Strike Zone


Perhaps the most anticipated event in the international maritime community this year is the opening of the Panama Canal on June 26th. As vessels make their transits in the months to come, our ports will realize the benefits of this highly anticipated project. We are all expecting good things.

You may be aware that I spent two years in Panama working at the Canal during my tenure with the Coast Guard. There was much to learn and plenty of hard work, but I had the privilege of meeting and working with many remarkable people.

RichardsonMy family and I genuinely enjoyed living in Panama. My sons, Michael and Daniel, were on a little league team in Panama City, and I remember watching one of their afternoon practices. It was a bit of an odd experience because one of the sons of Martín Torrijos, the President of Panama, was on their team. So when young Torrijos came up to bat, the coach walked out to the mound and spent a few minutes explaining to the 12-year-old pitcher that he could not, under any circumstances, hit the kid with a pitch. “Don’t hit that kid; he’s the son of the President! Look at him – don’t throw there! Don’t throw the ball at him!” Well, this story ends exactly like you think it will: the first pitch plunked young Mr. Torrijos on the back, and he brushed himself off and trotted to first.

I don’t remember who won the scrimmage that day, but I do remember thinking, “If the coach had focused the teen pitcher on the strike zone as much as he focused him on not hitting the batter, he may have been able to get a better result…”

Today, when I talk to Port Bureau members and industry professionals, there’s a great buzz about the opening of the new lanes at the Panama Canal. I’m excited too. It’s great to know that the capacity for growth is there and that the Canal won’t be a limiting factor. But then I ask people the follow-up question: are you going to import or export more cargo as a result of the new mega locks in Panama? The strike zone isn’t the Canal – it’s the cargo. We need to make sure that we know what the cargo will be, and then we can start making decisions.

Cargo drives imports, and cargo drives exports. The new locks will allow U.S. shippers better access to China and other Asian markets, providing a more direct route for larger vessels with greater economies of scale. The expansion holds the promise of reducing the transit time and expense for exports such as natural gas liquids from the Gulf of Mexico. We do expect to move more cargo through our port, as larger ships make Houston an attractive place to bring cargo in, and position us as the low-cost option to shippers and receivers from Dallas to Chicago.

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At the same time, I temper my expectations a bit because I know that after an initial period of reshuffling and rerouting, we will only sustain growth as fast as cargo demand grows. What’s important, though ,is that when the world market needs more plastics, more refined products, or more project cargo, those ships can now move more economically through the Port of Houston to wherever they need to go on the globe. Combined with the infrastructure development that our region has engaged in during the recent shale boom, our future has a lot of possibilities for great success.

The Port Bureau is dedicated to helping you maximize the opportunities awaiting us as we chart a new course through shifting seas – and we are just a phone call or an email away. Better yet: join a committee or come to one of our events. Our Commerce Clubs are a great place to meet new customers and maintain relationships with valued partners. The dredging committee is having meaningful, productive dialogue with our regulators and legislative partners, and the traffic efficiency team has hosted several round tables to discuss a range of port operations issues. The Canal opening is exciting, and so is the work being done by your Port Bureau – let’s keep working together and throwing strikes.


  • Date June 14, 2016
  • Tags June 2016