A Puyallup-based shipping line will move its major Puget Sound port of call back to the Port of Tacoma in late July after a 31-year absence.
Westwood Shipping Lines will shift its maritime operations from the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5, where it has called since 1983 when it left Tacoma.
The news came in an unusual joint announcement from the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. The two in recent decades have been fierce rivals in winning business from shipping lines.
The joint announcement comes after a new effort to work cooperatively to win more new business for Puget Sound in the face of strong competition from Canada, Mexico and East Coast ports.
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Westwood’s return to Tacoma was necessary because of the Port of Seattle’s decision to shut down its Terminal 5 for an update. That left Westwood and other shipping lines looking for new Puget Sound terminals to handle cargo. Most of the major lines moved to other Port of Seattle terminals.
Westwood, considered 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 — goods that must be loaded individually. The Port of Tacoma’s Husky Terminal fit the bill.
“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 Port of Tacoma Commission President Clare Petrich. “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 (Federal Maritime Commission) 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 Shipping Lines was owned by Federal Way-based Weyerhaeuser until it was sold in 2011 to a group of Japanese terminal operators.
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 lines carry hundreds of shipping containers but not other cargoes on the same vessel.
The first Westwood ship will call at Tacoma’s Husky terminal on the west side of the Blair Waterway on July 30. Westwood operates about seven sailings monthly between the Pacific Northwest and Japan, South Korea and China.
Port of Tacoma officials are not yet estimating how many jobs the new line will bring.
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.
The Port of Seattle, hit with the loss of major shipping line Grand Alliance to Tacoma three years ago, is remodeling Terminal 5 to handle the ever-larger container ships entering service. It could shut down such a major terminal because its other terminals were operating below capacity and could absorb the traffic handled at Terminal 5.