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Port of Baltimore sets record in first half of 2012

The Port of Baltimore rolled to a first-half tonnage record this year, thanks in large part to strong imports and exports of roll on/roll off cargo.

The port announced Thursday that its public marine terminals handled a record 4.83 million tons of general cargo in the first six months of 2012, breaking the record that was set in the first half of 2008.

The all-time record for a full year is 8.96 million tons, also set in 2008. The public terminals are on pace to shatter that record by moving 9.66 million tons of cargo.

Farm and construction equipment was up 36 percent, automobiles were up 27 percent and containers were up 7 percent over the first half of 2011, when the public terminals moved 4.38 million tons of cargo.

Richard Scher, the port’s spokesman, said the first-half gain can be attributed to a variety of factors. Farming equipment has been needed in Europe, he said, and imports of construction cargo have grown, perhaps due to an increase in infrastructure projects in an improved economy.

The port is also feeling the impact of Hapag-Lloyd, a German company that began weekly container shipments to the Port of Baltimore in late February. Hapag-Lloyd is the fifth-largest container shipping company in the world, and is expected to bring about 30,000 containers to the port each year.

Car exports — especially to the Middle East — were also strong, Scher said. And, he said, the port’s gains ought to be sustainable.

“When each of these commodities increase globally, this port will always do very well because of some constants here: productive and efficient labor, quality programs for autos and roll on/roll off that don’t exist in other ports,” Scher said.

“And this port’s closer [in] proximity to the Midwest than other East Coast ports, which gives us logistical and cost advantages.”

In a statement, Gov. Martin O’Malley said the port’s strong first half showed it had rebounded from the recession.

“The more cargo that comes across the port’s docks, the more good news that is for the thousands of men and women who work there and depend on it to support their families,” the statement said.

The first half numbers for 2012 continue a strong run for the port, which in 2011 saw a 15 percent increase in cargo from 2010, the greatest growth experienced by any major U.S. port. The public and private terminals handled 37.8 million tons of cargo last year, totaling $51.4 billion — a record dollar value.

The port ranked first in handling farm and construction equipment, imported forest products, imported sugar, imported iron ore and imported gypsum last year.

Officials have frequently given much credit for the port’s resurgence to the decision to enter into a public-private partnership with Ports America Chesapeake, which manages day-to-day operations at the port. The state and Ports America Chesapeake signed a 50-year agreement in 2009.

Ports America has since built a 50-foot berth that will allow the port to handle larger cargo ships coming from Asia starting in 2014, coinciding with the Panama Canal expansion. Ports America has also paid for four giant container cranes that can handle the large ships’ cargo.

Scher said three of the four cranes have been raised to full height, and training for crane operators should begin soon.

The only other East Coast port with a 50-foot channel and a 50-foot berth is in Norfolk, Va.