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Fast boat from China

A new direct shipping link from China to Tampa will mean bay area companies won’t have to wait as long for imported goods to reach them.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published August 2, 2006


TAMPA — The Zim Adriatic lumbered into Tampa on Wednesday loaded with metal boxes full of products as diverse as gypsum wallboard and wicker night stands.

For port officials, the 783-foot-long ship represented a breakthrough: the first regular delivery of container cargo to Tampa directly from export powerhouse China.

“This is cargo that primarily was (previously) dropped off in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Savannah and trucked down here,’’ said Richard Wainio, Tampa’s port director.The new weekly service by Zim American Integrated Shipping Services should double the volume of the port’s modest container cargo business in the next year.

Other container shipping companies are watching Zim’s growing presence and will likely drop anchor in Tampa soon, Wainio said.

Tampa Bay area companies relying on imports complained for more than three decades that the Tampa Port Authority ignored container cargo, by far the fastest-growing segment of the shipping trade.

That meant they had to pay extra to truck containers from distant ports and wait longer to get their goods.

The public agency changed course in recent years, spending $45-million to build a container terminal with three huge gantry cranes for quickly moving the 20- and 40-foot-long metal boxes on and off ships.

The first success came in 2003 when Zim launched a weekly feeder service from its hub in Kingston, Jamaica. That gave Tampa its first container shipper with global connections instead of making trips back and forth to small ports in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Zim’s new service is a quantum leap for the port. The Israeli company is replacing feeder vessels with ships that can carry three times as many containers, the equivalent of 3,000 20-foot boxes.

Even more important, containers from Asia won’t need to be dropped off by one ship and sit in the Kingston hub until the Tampa-bound vessel arrives.

The direct service means a container that leaves Shanghai should reach the port in 29 days. That makes a big difference to furniture wholesaler Swindal International, which had three or four containers of wicker furniture made in China arrive on the Zim Adriatic on Wednesday.

“Now it comes right to the docks,’’ said the company’s president, Mike Swindal. “That takes five to seven days off the transit time. If my containers missed the (feeder ship), it would take another week.’’

One of the biggest cargos to Tampa will be Chinese-made furniture for retailers such as Rooms to Go and Kane’s Furniture. Other imports will include consumer electronics and auto parts.

The new route brings Zim ships from China and South Korea through the Panama Canal to Kingston. After sailing to Tampa, they will stop in Mobile, Ala, and Houston.Mobile is growing quickly as the port where automaker Hyundai ships parts for its plant in Montgomery, Ala., which assembles Sonatas and Sante Fe SUVs.

Tampa Bay area businesses import the equivalent of 400,000 20-foot cargo containers, said Wainio, but only a fraction come into Tampa.

For the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the port expects to nearly double its volume to 50,000 20-foot container equivalents. The trade is almost entirely inbound.

On Wednesday, the Zim Adriatic unloaded 287 containers at the port and was scheduled to take on 200 containers — all empty.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

[Last modified August 2, 2006, 22:25:13]


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