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Port Of Miami Recovering From A Tough Year

Both cargo and cruise volume up because of robust China trade and booming performance of cruise lines


February 24, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

MIAMI--The just-ended fiscal year was a tough one for the Port of Miami with declines in revenues, cruise passengers and containerized cargo, but the outlook for fiscal 2005 is bullish, according to Charles A. Towsley, the port director of the Port of Miami.

Among the reversals experienced by the port was a two-week truckers’ walkout that snarled cargo flows and saw diversions of some vessels because of the free-trade talks in Miami, which caused massive traffic jams. Also contributing to the reversals were approaching hurricanes. In addition, the regular calls of the cruise ship Norway stopped after a 2003 boiler explosion knocked the liner out of service.

These problems resulted in a 5% drop in revenue to $79 million, preliminary financial results indicated. Cruise traffic dropped 12% to 3.5 million passengers. Containerized cargo slipped to a little more than 1 million TEUs (20-foot-trailer equivalent), the industry’s measuring stick. Nevertheless, the total volume of cargo set a new record: up 2.5% to a whopping 9.2 million tons, said Towsley.

The prospects for the current fiscal year are definitely better for a number of reasons, according to the official. The Port of Miami is benefiting from a boom in the so-called "all-water route" carrying cargo from Asia through the Panama Canal to East Coast ports. "All-water" service circumvents the traditional and more popular route from Asia by sea to the West Coast and then by truck eastward.

With help from all-water traffic, mainland China emerged as the No. 2 trading partner for the Port of Miami in the just completed fiscal year, up from No. 14 the previous year. China accounted for roughly 7% of cargo tonnage at Miami, up from less than 3% the previous year, said Towsley.

Honduras, a key supplier of apparel and fresh produce, ranked as the top trading partner for the Port of Miami, accounting for 8% of all cargo. Towsley indicated that if current trends continue, China may very well outpace Honduras to become the port’s No. 1 trading partner this fiscal year.

The Port of Miami has an annual economic impact of $12 billion and accounts for 98,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to port activities. Cargo volumes are expected to grow about 5% this fiscal year, boosted by robust economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean, the trading mainstay for South Florida, said Towsley. Some of the increased Asian goods arriving in Miami are also being shipped through the port to markets in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Carnival has five vessels home-ported in Miami

Cruise business is expected to rebound to former levels of about 4 million passengers, said Towsley. Helping boost the cruise tally is the decision of Miami-based Carnival Corp. to increase the size (by structural stretching) of one of its five ships home-ported in Miami. Miami remains the largest seaport for multiday cruises, outpacing Port Everglades, which handled 2.7 million passengers on multiday cruises. But Port Everglades also offers single-day cruises to nowhere, which Miami doesn’t.

Although facing increased competition from other U.S. and Caribbean ports for the cruise trade, Miami continues to compete, with 38% of all visitors to Miami arriving there to take a cruise. About 17% are international cruise passengers. Therefore, an average of 26% of the passengers utilizing Miami International Airport are taking a cruise or returning from one.

There has been a significant increase in the number of cruise passengers driving to Miami to embark. The trend of drive-in cruise passengers started three years ago and anticipating the change the port spent $23 million on new parking facilities and added 3,000 new parking places.

The need for more container cranes with greater capabilities is evident as the volume of containerized cargo continues to escalate. The Port took delivery of two new cranes in January. Each costing $5.2 million, these steel giants, manufactured in Shanghai, China, have over 213 feet of outreach and are capable of lifting a 65-long-ton-load. They are among the biggest super-post-Panamax machinery ever delivered in the Western Hemisphere and among the largest in the world.

The trend for ever-bigger ships is not limited to the passenger cruise industry. Cargo carriers are updating their fleets that typically exceed 1,000 feet in length and are wider than the ones they are replacing. They require a depth of 42 feet and Miami is currently deepening the channel to accommodate them.

"Seaports whose water depths do not meet the requirements of these bigger ships face the challenge of either dredging to satisfy the needs of their current and prospective customers, or standing by as the shipping lines move to other ports capable of handling their ships," concluded Towsley.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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