Port Watch: A Thankful Bounty

Tom Marian
Buffalo Marine Service, Inc.

On November 25, 1783, the youngest and most free nation in the world celebrated Evacuation Day as the world’s mightiest Navy departed New York Harbor. A victorious General Washington lead the Continental Army into a city from which he was forced to abandon in November 1776 and declared that all should offer thanks to the Almighty for delivering victory to the United States. Evacuation Day would be celebrated for decades by states throughout the country as a day of Thanksgiving. Ultimately, in 1863, President Lincoln would declare the final Thursday of November as a national holiday, stressing that the Union had much to be thankful for with the recent successes of the North on the battlefield. Thus, Evacuation Day faded into obscurity. Yet, an ever-growing nation understood the importance of giving thanks for the many blessings that had been laid at the feet of America.

As Canada was in the midst of celebrating its Thanksgiving holiday on the second Monday of October, Texas ports were reaping a bountiful harvest of arrivals which culminated in one of the best monthly gains of the year. In total, over 7% more vessels arrived throughout the constellation of Texas ports during the last month − nudging up the year-to-date count by 1%. This bounty was a welcome rebound after a relatively tepid September and perhaps signaled that the final quarter of the year will end on a very strong note.

Only two ports failed to eclipse their September arrival counts in October. The Port of Brownsville’s struggles became more pronounced as it registered its lowest yield of the year as reflected in a 23% plunge over the course of the last month; yielding a 9% year-to-date arrival deficit. Texas City nearly broke even on a monthly basis with 1% fewer vessels (i.e., 1 less arrival); however, it continues to struggle to keep pace with 2018’s arrival count which remains off by 7%.

The “darling” of the month – the Port of Corpus Christi − not only registered a near-16% monthly jump in arrivals but welcomed its highest monthly count for the year – besting its previous monthly high by 12%. This rather torrid performance placed the port squarely in the positive column for the year by 2.6%. As previously mentioned, the port is ramping up to accommodate a greater volume of petrochemical movements as its infrastructure improvements come on line. The port of Freeport is also making similar gains as it continues to attract a larger numbers of vessels. During the last month, over 6% more arrivals moored at her docks surpassing 2018’s vessel count by nearly 8%. The nearby Port of Galveston, continues to reign supreme with the year’s highest year-over-year percentage gain which currently stands at 23.6%. The most recent monthly uptick of nearly 5% virtually guarantees that Galveston will maintains its top-tier position as the cruise season ramps up.

In east Texas, things were particularly rosy for the Sabine port complex which saw the highest monthly gain of all Texas ports at just shy 17%. While tanker and LPG carriers dominated the monthly percentage gains in the mid-twenties, general cargo and blue water tugs are up by well over 20% for the year. This has offset the 6.6% decline in tanker movements and kept the port in positive territory on a year-to-date basis which currently stands at 2.5%.

The port of Houston made a valiant attempt to out-do its 2018 year-over-year arrival count with its most recent monthly improvement of 5.4%. Unfortunately, 6.5% more bulkers, 3% more chemical tankers, 7.5% more container ships and 1% more LPG vessels could not pull the overall count ahead of that of 2018’s. As such, it will have two more months to tease the year-to-date percentage from negative 1% to something north of zero. The good news is that every major vessel category − with the exception of bulk carriers which was down by over 17% − posted positive numbers. Writ large, petrochemical exports are holding their own and containers are moving at a record pace across the port’s docks. Granted, vehicle imports appear to be flagging and inland tow movements are unlikely to approach 2018’s numbers. Nonetheless, the former could merely be a reflection of more vehicles entering the region from Galveston and Freeport; whereas the latter may be attributable to this year’s record high water duration. Whatever the reason, there is not much to complain about given the current utilization rate of tank barges on the Gulf Coast and the pace of growth throughout the Houston region.

A positive October, followed by what appears to be an equally strong November, certainly sets the stage for a yield of plenty this Thanksgiving. Then again, when one views the events and times behind this holiday of thanks, it is not the cornucopia of plenty that we should be thankful for; rather, it is the freedom to pursue our dreams; the ability to capitalize upon endless opportunities; and the knowledge that our families are not subject to the despotism of a heavy-handed government. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving with your family and loved ones no matter where you celebrate this day of thanks.

  • Date December 12, 2019
  • Tags 2019 November