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Penn Terminals booming with container trade

EDDYSTONE, PA — Penn Terminals Inc. is in a transition, moving toward more container business, according to John Brennan, the firm’s president and chief executive officer.

This re-emphasis began a couple of years ago because containers are “better business for us,” Brennan said. The port for years has been a multi-purpose terminal.

This included handling steel, “which is slow moving and a land hog.” Rebar still can sit in a terminal facility and take space for six months, he noted.Jeff-John-Brennan-Penn-TerminalsIn the lobby of Penn Terminals Inc., are Jeffery Culbertson, vice president of sales, John Brennan, the port’s president and chief executive officer.

“With containers, you can reuse the same spot many times over. And stack much higher than you could rebar.”

To accommodate increasing container business, last fall Penn Terminals completed the installation of two new gantry cranes. “Now we have four good cranes, which is just right for us and the volume we have,” Brennan said.

Jeffery Culbertson, vice president of sales, described the Penn Terminal’s cargo ship service.

For several years, Seaboard Marine has arrived on Mondays at Penn Terminals, bearing containers from the west coast of South America, Panama and Costa Rica. This involves year-round commodities like bananas and pineapples. There is a variety of seasonal produce from Peru and Ecuador, including citrus this summer, as well as avocados, mangos, blueberries and other products.

“Peru is the powerhouse and they’re really making a 100-percent, full-gun effort to build their business,” Culbertson said. “Over the last two or three years, Peruvian volumes have continued to go up.”

A second Seaboard container service from north Central America commenced last May which arrives on Sundays at Penn Terminals and then continues north to Brooklyn again, with a strong focus towards perishable commodities.

While Penn Terminals isn’t involved in the Chilean grape business, those Chilean growers are investing a great deal in Peruvian production. Culbertson his terminal — and others along the Delaware River — are benefiting from the success in produce development in Peru.

Additionally, SOL Marketing, a division of Fyffes, has a container service that bears seasonal (Thanksgiving to May) Central American melons for the North American market. SOL is under contract with Penn Terminals for the 2019-20 season.

Independent Container Line on Tuesdays and Wednesdays arrives from Antwerp and Liverpool into Penn Terminals. These containers primarily bear dry cargo, but the reefers deliver flower bulbs and Independent will be increasing in perishable volume, according to Culbertson.

At Penn Terminals on Wednesday nights, Crowley lift-on, lift-off barges take containers bound for Puerto Rico. This trade, which began a year and a half ago, carries dry, fresh and frozen products for Puerto Rican grocers and tourist trade.

This is the only all-water service to Puerto Rico from the northeastern United States, Culbertson said.

Penn Terminals has a 100,000-square-foot racked refrigerated warehouse alongside its dock. The facility was built for receiving breakbulk trade.

That trade has disappeared, but Brennan noted the warehouse is very efficient in holding perishable cargo overnight after stripping containers and shipping out the next day. “We use the same pallet positions over and over again. Our throughput has skyrocketed upward,” since the days of taking a whole week to move individual pallets left by breakbulk carriers.

Of course, there are reefer plugs on the facility for customers taking full containers.

The Penn Terminals facility is in the process of a sale to the Port of Singapore Authority. Macquarie Group, an Australian investment bank, is selling the facility. U.S. government approvals of that transaction are expected to be finalized by the end of this summer. Brennan said no operational changes are expected to come with the change of ownership. “PSA likes what we are doing and ‘want more of that,’” he said.

“We are doing quite well,” Brennan added.

Penn Terminals’ dock is 1,150 feet long, with the potential to be extended another 950 feet. The extension would be years down the road, Brennan noted.

Penn Terminals is located on 86 acres located between Philadelphia and Delaware. The site was a thriving shipyard during World War II. Here, T2 oil tankers were built, going from keel to launch in 42 days. Also on this site, many battle-damaged ships were repaired.

Culbertson said that this shipyard, like others around the country, declined after the war. “The last piece of the shipyard turned into a marine terminal 35 years ago.”

And Penn Terminals is now thriving by keeping atop global shipping trends.