The collaboration agreement will give the ports an advantage on the East Coast, as facilities along the coast face the logistical stress expected from the opening of the expanded Panama Canal and the steady escalation in size of mega vessels, Griffith Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said at a recent conference, IHS Media reported.Altogether, Norfolk
and Savannah handled 5.3 million loaded TEU in 2017, more than the 4.8 million loaded TEU handled by the Port of New York and New Jersey, the largest port on the coast, according to PIERS.By pooling information on operating practices, comparing notes on new technology and perhaps in the future coordinating ship arrivals at the two ports, they can improve operational efficiency and command more attention from beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) than alone, the executive directors of the ports said.Mr Lynch said the two executive directors spent a full day with their support teams comparing the design each has for expanding their rail operations, which are a key part of both of their future plans."We are not doing the same thing. But we learned from each other," he said. "That is a great example of what this whole thing is about."The Federal Maritime Commission in April unanimously voted not to block the East Coast Gateway Port Terminal Agreement between Virginia and Georgia, the first of its kind in the United States, that some analysts believe will set a precedent for port partnerships. The two ports had submitted the agreement two months earlier.Under the agreement, the ports will be able to jointly acquire operating systems and equipment; meet to share information on cargo handling, gate operations, turn times, staffing, and infrastructure; jointly draft agreements with carriers, shippers, and other terminal operators; and sync marketing materials to attract joint services, alliances, and carrier network agreements. The two cannot jointly set rates or charges, however."This is not just a port agreement, this is a gateway port agreement," Mr Lynch told the conference. "So, I think we both believe that as these vessels get larger and continue to move in that direction, not everybody is going to be a winner. It can't be, because there are ports that just can't handle the magnitude and the volume that these vessels bring.""The gateway port agreement helps us ensure that for the future we will be able to handle this cargo," Mr Lynch added.CEO and executive director, Port of Virginia, John F Reinhart, who spoke on the panel, said: "One of the things we looked at is we were both operating ports. We said, 'What are the areas where cooperation and collaboration would add value?' Some of these came real quickly. Customer service. If we can come up with better customer service and customer service that meets the requirements of the BCOs, we will be more competitive."How far that cooperation extends remains to be seen, but one frontier not yet passed is coordination in berthing windows. "That was something that drove this discussion and decision to do this [agreement]," Mr Lynch said."We are not there yet, though. I see a time at the end of the day [when] what happens at any container terminal is all the ships want to come at same time. The berths are 40 to 50 per cent utilised, but they are congested in many cases."That kind of situation could be alleviated through computerised coordination, which he described as "the uberisation of berthing".