Texas ports reopening, resume vehicle shipments

on Sep1

Railroad tracks are seen covered in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON — The Texas ports of Galveston and Freeport reopened Thursday and will receive their first car carriers since shutting down six days ago because of Hurricane Harvey.

A handful of roll-on/roll-off, or “ro/ro,” vessels have been holding offshore to discharge vehicles, according to logistics officials at the two ports.

Port Houston, which handles imports for Volkswagen and Fiat Chrysler, and the Houston Ship Channel remain closed on Thursday.

Port Freeport, south of Houston, was largely untouched by the storm because it has a protected approach, as well as storm levees with good drainage. The area picked up only about 15 inches of rain compared to several feet further inland, port authority officials told Automotive News.

A Hoegh Autoliners vessel is scheduled to dock Thursday at the auto terminal, company spokeswoman Safia Reddy said via email.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, vessel traffic is restricted to daylight hours and for vessels with a draft of 33 feet or less.

General Motors is the primary user at Port Freeport. The company exports Chevrolet Suburbans and Tahoes, GMC Yukons and Cadillac Escalades made at its Arlington, Texas, plant, to the Middle East. It also uses the port to import the Chevy Trax and Buick Encore crossovers from South Korea, said Jason Muria, Port Freeport’s business development manager.

The Hoegh vessel has a mix of “high and heavy” cargo (i.e. heavy machinery) from the Far East and will also offload about 160 GM vehicles from Korea, said Anthony Vrban, vice president of operations for Horizon Terminal Services, Hoegh’s terminal operating arm.

Photo credit: PORT FREEPORT

Port Galveston, which is northeast of Houston, also escaped significant damage based on preliminary findings from cameras on the property, interim port director Peter Simons said. High wind drove a lot of water out of Galveston Bay, which allowed more water to drain into the bayous, he explained.

Although parking areas at the two vehicle processing centers at the east end of the port were flooded, no vehicles were damaged because they were moved to higher ground before Harvey hit, he said.

Galveston is the main Gulf port used by BMW and Mini. The terminal has only been in operation for 18 months and handled about 18,000 vehicles last year.

A facility on the west end of the port is used to export late-model used vehicles to West Africa.

Japanese ocean carrier Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, referred to as “K” Line, has two vessels parked in the Gulf of Mexico and one of them is expected to dock in Galveston Thursday, Simon said.

“K” Line has two vessel calls per month in Galveston and two per month for VW in Houston, according to schedules published on its website. The storm has set back vessels from their normal port rotation, said Butch Crane, “K” Line North America’s vice president of ro/ro sales.

Vehicles scheduled to come off the ships in Galveston are bound for dealerships in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The road network in Houston is improving and I-45 is clear, so trucks should be able to follow their normal routes in most cases, Simons said.

Although Port Houston is still shut down, Auto Warehousing Co. which preps imports for Fiat Chrysler, appears to have weathered the storm well, said Ben Seher, co-president of family owned Auto Warehousing Co.

The building where cars are accessorized has a few small puddles inside, he added, but otherwise looks ready to go based on camera footage, he said. The facility has power and the computer systems are working.

All vehicles were moved off the dock and delivered before the storm to dealers in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana within a 500-mile radius.

The Fiat Chrysler terminal in Port Houston is also new and handled about 17,000 vehicles (the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, Fiat 500X, and Fiat 500 L) in 2016, Seher said.

Italian car carrier Grimaldi transports the vehicles to Houston.

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