Another Seattle shipping line is heading to the Port of Tacoma

A Western Washington-based shipping line will move its major Puget Sound port of call back to the Port of Tacoma in late July after an absence of 31 years.

Westwood Shipping Lines, headquartered in Puyallup’s South Hill Business and Technical Center, will shift its maritime operations from the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5, where it has called since 1983 when it left Tacoma.

The Westwood move was announced in an unusual joint announcement from the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. The two ports in recent decades have been fierce rivals in winning business from shipping lines.

The joint announcement comes in the wake of a new effort by the two ports to work cooperatively to win more new business for Puget Sound in the face of strong new competition from Canada, Mexico and East Coast ports.

“We are pleased Westwood Shipping, when faced with the need to find a new terminal, has opted to remain in the Puget Sound gateway,” said Tacoma Commission President Clare Petrich. “We appreciate the important role of Westwood Shipping as a leading ocean carrier in our state. The ongoing conversations between commissioners at the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, under a Federal Maritime Administration Discussion Agreement, are focused on this exact situation – ensuring valued shipping lines remain in Puget Sound and that we work together to attract new services.”

Port of Seattle Commission Co-President Stephanie Bowman said, “Competition between private terminal operators to offer the best service to shipping lines is the natural course of business in this industry. The opportunity the two ports are exploring under the FMC Discussion Agreement is how to best ensure these common moves of shipping lines between ports in the same region occur within a larger unified strategy to increase our overall container market share in the Puget Sound gateway, to leverage infrastructure investments and to produce statewide economic benefits. I am optimistic we will reach this shared vision.”

Westwood‘s move was necessitated by the Port of Seattle’s decision to shut down its Terminal 5 for updating. That shutdown left Westwood and other shipping lines looking for new Puget Sound terminals to handle cargo. Most of the major shipping lines moved to other Port of Seattle terminals.

Westwood, considered something of a niche player in the trans-Pacific transportation business because of its method of operation and its relatively small fleet of modestly sized ships, needed a large area of covered storage to handle break-bulk cargo items awaiting shipment or arriving from overseas. The Port of Tacoma’s Husky Terminal fit the bill.

The first Westwood ship will call at that terminal on the west side of the Blair Waterway July 30. Westwood operates about seven sailings across the Pacific between the Pacific Northwest and Japan, Korea and China monthly. Port of Tacoma officials are not yet estimating how many jobs the new line will bring.

Westwood ships are unusual in that they carry multiple cargoes on the same ship, oversized containerized goods, break bulk machinery and parts and lumber and forest products. Most major shipping line ships carry hundreds of shipping containers but not other cargoes on the same vessel.

Westwood Shipping Lines until 2011 was owned by Federal Way’s Weyerhaeuser Co. That year it sold the small shipping line to a group of Japanese terminal operators. The shipping line’s headquarters moved from Weyerhaeuser’s campus in Federal Way to Puyallup.

The shipping line also calls at Vancouver, B.C. and on ports like Longview on the Columbia River where it handles forest products. Westwood ships also call from time to time in Everett, bringing major aircraft assemblies from Asia to Boeing’s assembly plant there.

The Port of Seattle, suffering from the loss of a major shipping line customer, the Grand Alliance, to Tacoma three years ago, is remodeling Terminal 5 to handle the ever-larger container ships now entering service. It could shut down such a major terminals because its other terminals were operating below capacity and could absorb the traffic handled at Terminal 5.

The ports are acting jointly to determine how to improve their competitiveness versus foreign ports and ports on the East Coast that are becoming more viable options for shipping line because of the widening of the Panama Canal.