Ports of Seattle and Tacoma to share operating information

Staff writerJanuary 16, 2014 

Port of Tacoma

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer

The ports of Tacoma and Seattle announced Thursday they intend to share formerly private information about their operations and financing with an eye toward making them both more competitive.

The two ports Thursday night released an application to the Federal Maritime Commission to begin cooperative efforts to bring new shipping traffic to the Pacific Northwest.

Port of Tacoma Chief Executive Officer John Wolfe said the two ports in the past have cooperated extensively on environmental issues and on lobbying Congress to change tax laws to make U.S. ports more competitive with their Canadian rivals, but the new cooperative arrangement will add another dimension to that alliance.

Clare Petrich, the Port of Tacoma Commission president, said the new initiative will potentially give the two ports a larger presence in international markets.

"Although the two ports have traditionally competed with each other," they said in a letter to the commission, "we understand that the true competition for cargo in the Puget Sound is happening well beyond our borders."

"As a result, the ports desire to explore ways to discuss ways to maintain the Pacific Northwest as a fully competitive port gateway," the ports said.

The ports said they may hire an outside consultant to study both of their operations with an eye toward rationalizing their operations.

In recent decades both ports have been criticized by outsiders for poaching shipping lines from each other rather than working to attract new traffic from ports outside Puget Sound.

Two years ago, the Port of Tacoma won business from the Grand Alliance, a consortium of four shipping lines that had called at the Port of Seattle.  Three years prior to that move, the Port of Seattle attracted Maersk Line, one of the Port of Tacoma's biggest customers, to move north.

Recent developments have added to the urgency of Puget Sound ports mounting a joint business effort.  The Port of Prince Rupert in British Columbia has attracted traffic away from the U.S. West Coast. That port has installed new container terminal facilities with direct rail connections through Canada to the U.S. Midwest.  Goods handled through Prince Rupert are not subject to U.S. port taxes, giving them a cost advantage.

Shipping lines, operating under increased pressures, are forming alliances and operating bigger ships that call on fewer ports to cut expenses.

Word of the new joint effort originally had been scheduled to be announced Friday, but word of the deal slipped out when Port of Seattle Co-president Stephanie Bowman addressed the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

Before being appointed to the Port of Seattle Commission, Bowman worked for the Port of Tacoma for five years as manager of federal government affairs.

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