Shipping company links Portland with Shanghai, China, and two Japanese cities

The Port of Portland had the welcome mat out this week when Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. called on Terminal 6 with one of its bigger 'post-Panamax' ships, which will establish a direct marine link with Shanghai, China, and Nagoya and Tokyo, Japan.

That's important, port spokesman Aaron Ellis said, because Japan and China rank as Oregon's No. 1 and No. 2 trading partners, followed by South Korea and Taiwan.

In the case of Shanghai, Ellis said, 'we're adding a brand new port we haven't been able to serve in the past, which is a real benefit for importers and exporters, because we do a lot of trade with China.'

Tony Galati, Portland general manager for South Korea-based Hyundai, said the new schedule will expand market access for Portland area importers and exporters. Adding Shanghai also is important, he said, because it's a destination that's growing more important for Northwest businesses.

Imports ranging from clothing and footwear to electronics, furniture and housewares come from Asia to the Port of Portland; the region sends back paper stock, grass straw, hay and a wide variety of foodstuffs, including frozen French fries, beef, dried beans, peas and lentils, and canned vegetables.

The new ships, Ellis said, reflect an industrywide move to larger and more efficient vessels.

The blue-hulled 903-foot Hyundai Baron called at Portland on Wednesday, unloading cargo and picking up Asia-bound containers. Its size puts it into the 'post-Panamax' category, meaning it's larger than the biggest ships that can go through the Panama Canal.

The Baron and four sister ships each has a maximum capacity of 4,400 TEUs, a shipper's term that refers to 20-foot equivalent units, the standard size for a shipping container. That's about 30 percent more carrying space than the smaller ships Hyundai had been sending to Portland, according to Ellis. The bigger ships also sit deeper in the water, drawing almost 45 feet when fully loaded, making them the deepest draft container ships to come to Portland.

But the deeper draft is a moot point in the Columbia River, which has a channel depth of 40 feet. Even if the port gets the federal OK to dredge the channel to 43 feet, there still wouldn't be enough water for the fully loaded ships.

'In this case the ship is generally going to have to load lighter than the ship's capability,' about 80 percent of maximum, Ellis said. A deeper channel would mean being able to carry about 90 percent of capacity, he said.

'It would be uncommon for a ship like this to load at maximum capacity, with global economic conditions the way they are; these ships aren't going to load to full capacity anyway,' he said. 'But to have the ability to do that is certainly advantageous.'

Hyundai has had weekly service to Portland since 1988 with smaller ships.

Portland is the last call before the ships make the nine- to 10-day trip to Asia. Before Portland, the ships stop at the ports of Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle and Tacoma. Hyundai, which shares space on its container ships with Singapore shipper APL and Tokyo's Mitsui O.S.K. lines, is one of two transpacific container lines that serves Portland; the other is K Lines, a Japanese company.

Two other container ship lines, Evergreen and Hanjin, no longer send their vessels to Portland. Because they share container space on other companies' ships, Ellis said, 'we didn't lose them. But their ships are not coming here anymore.'

Most of the container lines, he said, share space with other lines.

Port officials, Galati and other dignitaries gathered on board the Hyundai Baron Wednesday afternoon for a 'first call' ceremony to commemorate the ship's first visit to Portland. Similar ceremonies will be held in the next four weeks when Hyundai's other ships make their first visits here.

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