What’s the importance of a port city?

Ports are maritime facilities that have one or more wharves, or loading areas. These areas allow ships to load and unload cargo and passengers. Port is usually located on the coast or estuary but can also be found inland such as Hamburg or Manchester or Duluth. These ports have access to the sea via rivers and canals. Many port cities have seen dramatic multi-ethnic, multicultural changes in their history due to their role as ports of entry for both immigrants and soldiers in wartime.

Global trade is 70% dependent on ports. Ports are often densely populated settlements, which provide labor for handling and processing goods as well as related services. Asia is the continent that has the most rapid growth in port development. It hosts some of the busiest and largest ports in the world, including Ningbo Zhoushan and Shanghai. The Port of Helsinki, Finland is Europe’s busiest passenger port. However, there are many smaller ports that serve local fishing or tourism industries.

Ports can have a significant environmental impact on local ecologies, waterways, and water quality. This can be due to dredging, spills, and other pollution. Climate change is a major threat to ports, as the majority of port infrastructure is vulnerable to coastal flooding and sea level rise. Global ports are looking for ways to improve coastal management and incorporate climate change adaptation techniques into their construction.

Modern ports

While early ports were primarily simple harbors, modern ports are multimodal distribution hubs with transport links via sea, river, and canal as well as rail, road, rail, and air. Ports that are successful are strategically located to maximize access to an active hinterland such as London Gateway. A port should allow ships to navigate easily and provide shelter from the wind and waves. Ports are usually located on estuaries. The water can be shallow so it may require regular dredging. Milford Haven, a deep water port, is less common but can handle larger vessels with a greater draft such as super tanks, Post-Panamax vessels, and large container ships. It is advantageous for other businesses, such as regional distribution centers, warehouses, freight forwarders, and canneries, to be situated within a port or near one. Modern ports have sophisticated cargo-handling equipment such as reach stackers, gantry cranes, and forklift trucks.

Ports often have specific functions. Some ports cater to passenger ferries and cruise ship passengers, while others specialize in container traffic and general cargo. Other ports also play an important military role in the country’s navy. Ascension, St Helena, and other small islands in the third world have very limited port facilities. Ships must anchor while passengers and cargo are brought ashore by barge (or launch) respectively.

Ports can either survive or fall depending on economic trends. The transatlantic passenger liner industry was once dominated by both Southampton and Liverpool in the UK. After the decline of airliner traffic, both ports began to diversify into container cargo and cruise ships. The Port of London used to be a major international port on the Thames River but has been declining since the 1950s due to changes in shipping and the increased use of container ships and larger ships.

What is the significance of a port town?

The United States ports are an integral part of its economy and intermodal transport network. Ships account for more than 95 percent of the cargo that arrives in the United States. These goods are transported to their destination by more than 360 commercial ports across the country. Residents will be able to engage with those who live near ports more effectively by understanding the importance and role of ports.

The Ports Primer is primarily focused on ports. There are other considerations that can apply to large intermodal cargo facilities located far from waterways. These facilities are often called inland ports. Although the Ports Primer doesn’t focus on the cargo transport aspect of port-related tasks there are many issues (e.g. idle ships) that can be applied to the passenger/travel side of port functions.

The National Economy
American ports serve as gateways to international and domestic trade. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, U.S. Seaports receive nearly 99 percent of all foreign cargo volume and 65 percent of its value.4 AAPA stands for the American Association of Port Authorities. These figures are significant considering that almost 30% of U.S. commerce is international. What is Gross Domestic Product (or GDP)? More ships are arriving at U.S. shoreports to meet increasing consumer demand.

Port and port-related employment

Many local communities have ports as a source of jobs. Ports can be both employers and support jobs in related fields, such as rail or trucking. The American Association of Port Authorities reports that deepwater port authorities supported 541,946 jobs in the U.S. in 2014. Their workers were paid an average of $54,273 in salary. The port activity also created over 23,000,000 jobs through its overall economic impact on the surrounding areas.6

Major Shipping Commodities

These are the most frequently shipped commodities through U.S. ports

  • Petroleum products and crude petroleum (such as gasoline or aviation fuel)
  • Chemicals and related products, such as organic fertilizers
  • Coal
  • Food and farm produce wheat, flour, corn, and soybeans. rice, cotton, coffee
  • Forest products: lumber, chips, and wood
  • Iron and steel
  • Soil, sand, gravel, rock, stone

Other commodities were shipped through the largest ports USA.

  • Automobiles and parts for automobiles
  • Clothing, shoes, and electronics

Ports can handle many different commodity combinations. Ports may specialize in one commodity. Some ports specialize in one type of commodity while others are more versatile.

Intermodal Transportation System

Ports are essential transportation hubs that allow goods to move between local communities and worldwide markets. Figure right shows how ports can be connected with consumers via our highway system (railroads and air transportation) as well as domestic Marine Highways (water transportation routes). These ports can be intercoastal or small inland, and allow goods to be moved and stored between seaports. Intermodal Transportation refers to the coordination and movement of cargo between different transport modes.

Ports might be interested in ways to increase their internal capacity and efficiency as well as invest in infrastructure to accommodate larger ships. To increase their transportation capacity, ports could work with other agencies, such as state and federal Departments of Transportation and communities. This allows for the elimination of bottlenecks in other modes of transportation.

National Defense and Emergency Preparedness
Ports have many important functions. They are transportation hubs and economic drivers. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has granted Strategic Seaport status (15 of the country’s commercial maritime ports). See the map below. These ports can be used to support military deployments.

Strategic Seaports United States

Because of their large holding areas and connections to rail infrastructure, they can also load non-containerized cargo. Ports can also use these capabilities to support emergency response activities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency for natural disasters.

The DOD heavily relies on Strategic Seaports during military surge operations. These ports were used by the DOD, for example, to transport combat vehicles during Operation Iraqi Freedom. These operations require that Strategic Seaports have the required rail infrastructure, large areas for military cargo, as well as workers who can handle non-containerized arms. Our ports might need to be constrained as the demand for commercial container shipping increases.

Homeland Security

It is crucial to protect ports. Ports are subject to heavy cargo traffic. It is essential to take security measures to ensure that the ports are protected and monitored while goods can flow freely. Port security oversight and responsibility fall to many actors. It can be challenging. The President approved the National Strategy for Maritime Security in October 2005. This strategy outlines plans for addressing preparedness for protection, response, and recovery from natural and man-made catastrophes that could pose security concerns at ports.

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