Port Watch-Midsummer Wane

Tom Marian
Buffalo Marine Service, Inc.

Summer’s grip on the setting sun loosens as the post-solstice shortening of days arrives. Not even the heavy tropical air can delay its descent to the horizon. Yet, the thick air of summer does take its toll on the pace of things. The humidity cloaks all in an invisible web – slowing even the most intrepid. Undoubtedly, it takes an enormous amount of effort to complete the simplest of tasks. Welcome to a Texas summer!

True to form, the summer wane has begun. Total vessel arrivals were off nearly 3% in Jupiter’s wife’s month; however, the majority of Texas ports posted modest gains. More importantly, 2019’s mid-year pace currently exceeds last year by 1%.

One of the top achieving ports in June was Freeport. This maritime gem registered its highest arrival count for the year; at just shy 5 the coveted triple-digit count. Its monthly 12% arrival jump pushed the port 8.3% ahead of 2018’s arrival numbers. Once again, Freeport is poised to handily eclipse its record 2018 performance.

The port of Galveston also has much to crow about after its most recent monthly gain of 3%. Apparently, the summer doldrums have shied away from this port. At present, it is outdistancing last year’s arrival stats by over 26% – leaps and bounds beyond its next closest positive-performing port.

At the border, Brownsville’s port had a respectable month with a near 5% monthly rise. Unfortunately, it still has a bit of a hole to climb out of in order to match last year’s arrival haul. To date, it lags year-to-date by over 8%.

Beyond the waters of Laguna Madre, the summer malaise’s impact on the port of Corpus Christi was rather minimal with one less vessel call over the course of the last month. Despite the fact this this nascent port powerhouse has not seen a monthly increase in vessel arrivals since March, its consistent commerce has kept it just beyond last year’s rally. Thus far, it remains just over 1% ahead.

At the eastern reaches of the state, Sabine experienced a bit of a monthly lull – to the tune of 2.3%. Nevertheless, its 2019 showing is besting 2018’s by over 8%. The port is doing everything in its power to hasten the expansion of its deep draft channel in order to accommodate the greater volume of larger vessels calling upon its expanded petrochemical terminals.

Texas City is also in need of dredging but finds itself lacking sufficient space for the thousands of cubic yards of dredged material. The port welcomed one more deepdraft in the last month which translated to a 1% gain. While its 2nd quarter performance greatly exceeded that of the 1st quarter of the year, Texas City still lags 2018’s arrival count by 3%.

As one clears the Texas City dike and enters Houston’s channel, it was evident that the summer slumber had visited the hemisphere’s biggest petrochemical port. Vessel arrival plunged more than 7% over the course of the last month dropping its year-to-date pace to -3.3%. Interestingly, if one were to carve out the tanker performance, the port would have been in the black for the year since 53 of the 54 fewer arrivals fell upon this vessel category. Consequently, nearly every other vessel category posted positive monthly numbers.

LPG vessels equaled its high for the year with a 5% increase but remain off over 5% for the year. Chemical tankers cast of the blues of summer with 2% more arrivals for the month and remain over 2% to the good for the year. Bulkers continued to hold their own with a respectable 3.8% uptick. This category appears to be casting off its lackluster past as reflected in a year-to-date improvement of 7.6%. General cargo is gradually working a comeback. Its most recent monthly rise of 2% narrowed the year-to-date deficit to 2.5%. Mind you, its recovery remains fragile in an uncertain trade environment, but regional activity could pull it into positive territory by the end of the year. At least that is what the ever-positive trend line in the world of containers is projecting. The Gulf’s largest container port continues to excel with over 6% more container vessels on a year-to-date basis. No doubt aided by last month’s 3.5% gain.

Perhaps the enervating heat of summer is not as draining as it would appear when one dives into the most recent arrivals statistics. After all, once the ships clear the sea buoy, terra firma’s torrid temperatures are cast aside by the cooler sea breezes. It is not so much about losing ground; rather, it’s about pausing before the second wind that accompanies that first cold front. Soon enough, the midsummer malaise will give way to autumn’s bounty.

  • Date July 25, 2019
  • Tags 2019 July