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Port close to signing huge deal with line

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on July 15, 2005.

The Jacksonville Port Authority is on the verge of signing a deal with an Asian shipping line that will bring a mammoth new facility to Dames Point and could create thousands of jobs, double the number of containers brought into Jacksonville and eventually make the port one of the 10 busiest in the country.

Although port officials would not name the shipping line, pending an announcement early next week, the longshoreman's union said it has signed a contract with the Trans Pacific Container Service Corp., the terminal operating arm of Japan-based shipping line Mitsui OSK Lines, Ltd.

"The economic boost in Jacksonville with this coming will be tremendous," said Jess Babich, president of International Longshoreman's Association Clerks and Checkers Local 1593.

The line, MOL, will ship everything from textiles and clothing to electronics and general manufactured goods to Jacksonville. Its subsidiary, Trans Pacific, hires longshoremen to load and unload the ships for MOL and other companies.

Ed Huebbe, MOL's corporate communications manager for North America, wouldn't comment about plans in Jacksonville. It's possible the company will set up operations at an East Coast port, Huebbe said.

Port officials also would not comment Thursday. But the port's summary of capital improvements in its 2006 budget includes a 120-acre container terminal at Dames Point. Executive Director Rick Ferrin said three months ago he was negotiating wth a shipping line that would operate on 120 acres at Dames Point. It would build a terminal in its first year that could increase the amount of containerized cargo the port handles by 50 percent, and eventually double it.

"This could be the single best thing to happen to the port since its inception," Ferrin said.

The shipping line would have an option on another 80 acres at the site, allowing it to expand to the port's cruise terminal, a development that could take three to five years, port executives said.

The land would be leased for 30 years, and the $100 million or more it would cost to build the terminal would be shared by the port and the cargo line.

Once all 200 acres are in use, the terminal could bring in the equivalent of 800,000 20-foot-long containers a year, more than doubling the 727,660 containers that moved through the port in 2004. In the first year of operation, the company is expected to bring in at least 360,000 containers.

It will take a little more than two years -- until late 2007 -- to get the terminal completed, and slightly longer to get the parcel up to full use. Expansion to the other 80 acres would not likely happen for several years after that.

That increase would push Jacksonville into the top tier of ports both nationally and on the East Coast, putting it in the same arena as Savannah, which handled 1.7 million 20-foot containers last year.

If the second phase is completed, the additional business would also create 1,800 jobs at the port -- unloading ships, order-tracking and security -- and an additional 3,200 to 3,400 jobs not directly related to the ships, both at the port and in related industries, officials said in earlier interviews.

If the company doesn't expand to the other 80 acres, the impact will be smaller unless other shippers take up the slack. It's unclear how many jobs will be created from the first phase alone, and port officials declined to offer estimates before the official announcement.

Historically, the Jacksonville Port Authority has focused on the Caribbean and, more recently, South and Central America, with Puerto Rico serving as its main customer. About 70 percent of all goods that go to Puerto Rico flow through Jacksonville.

Asian trade through Jacksonville has been confined to automobiles -- Toyotas, Daewoos, Mitsubishis and Nissans -- and transshipments, cargo that goes from, say, China to the Bahamas, where it's then loaded on a Jacksonville-bound ship.

Most of the goods from Asia come through California, which handles 40 percent of all U.S. containerized shipments. Goods are then shipped by rail or truck across the country. On the East Coast, the Savannah and Charleston ports have handled a large amount of Asian cargo.

Asian imports have soared over the past decade, from about 28 million tons in 1995 to about 42 million in 2001 and about 54 million in 2003.

That rapid growth has resulted in congestion headaches for West Coast ports, causing ships to wait before being able to dock and leading to difficulties in getting cargo unloaded in a timely fashion.

timothy.gibbons@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4103

WHAT THE DEAL BRINGS TO PORT

-- A new $100 million terminal on 120 to 200 acres at Dames Point, to be completed in late 2007

-- A Japanese freighter delivering general merchandise, textiles, clothing and electronics

-- About 360,000 additional containers delivered to the port in year one, 2008, with potential for more

-- Upward of 1,800 new jobs at the port directly related to the new shipments and another 3,200-plus on and off the port

-- Potential to more than double the number of containers coming to Jacksonville from 727,600 to 1.53 million



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This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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