News & Updates

Florida East Coast Ports Meeting Demand with Enhanced Facilities, Deeper Channels

- Paul Scott Abbott | American Journal of Transportation

Ports along the Atlantic Coast of Florida are continuing to meet demands of growing commerce by advancing a bevy of infrasructure enhancements, including deeper ship channels.

From new berths to improved intermodal links, the wealth of endeavors at seaports of the Sunshine State’s East Coast aim to facilitate swift, efficient handling of increasing cargo volumes.

Here’s the latest on Florida Atlantic Coast ports, beginning in Northeast Florida, just south of the Georgia line, then proceeding southward to Miami:

Port of Fernandina

Florida’s northernmost port, the Port of Fernandina, has just changed hands with acquisition of longtime operator Nassau Terminals LLC, a unit of Kinder Morgan Port Terminals LLC, by Worldwide Terminals Fernandina LLC, a subsidiary of Worldwide Group LLC and Four Wood Infrastructure Partners. The latter is a subsidiary of Four Wood Capital Partners LLC, a New York-based asset management and merchant banking firm.

Under new ownership, Northeast Florida’s Port of Fernandina is looking to add to its cargo-handling infrastructure and expand its business.

Christopher Ragucci, a former director of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey who has served since 2001 as Worldwide Group’s chief executive officer, assumes the helm at the Port of Fernandina, overseeing a $10 million, multiyear program to add more cranes and cargo-handling equipment and extend berthing. Also, Foreign-Trade Zone designation is targeted for this year, while plans are afoot for relaunch of European service and additional business expansion.

The port currently handles paper and other forest product exports to the Caribbean and Central and South America by Barnett Paper and Caribbean Forest Carriers and is in its 32nd year as homeport for Somers Isles Shipping Ltd.’s containership service to Bermuda.

Port of Jacksonville

After a decade of study, public input and reviews, and having gained full regulatory approval, deepening of Jacksonville Harbor to 47 feet has begun by Dutra Group, under contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the first 3-mile segment of work expected to take two years.

The Jacksonville Port Authority’s rapidly growing Port of Jacksonville is home to the busiest containerport complex in the Sunshine State.

Buoyed by healthy Asian trade, the port’s public and private terminals combined to handle more than 1.3 million 20-foot-equivalent units of containerized cargo in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2017, making it Florida’s busiest containerport complex, while the port also moved a record 693,000 vehicle units. Construction has begun on a new automobile processing terminal at the port, and Höegh Autoliners plans to begin offering direct roll-on/roll-off service to New Zealand and Australia in March.

The Jacksonville Port Authority’s FTZ No. 64 opened an outdoor storage facility in February, and JAXPORT has recently augmented its staff with the January hirings of veteran PortMiami executive Frederick P. Wong Jr. as chief operating officer and David Kalata, most recently international sales manager for Florida East Coast Railway, as director of national container accounts.

Port Canaveral

With late 2017 completion by Dutra Group of the $7.5 million, state-grant-backed project to deepen its West Turning Basin to 43 feet plus 2 feet of additional overdredge, Central Florida’s Port Canaveral now boasts ability to safely accommodate larger vessels at its containerized cargo terminal, operated at North Cargo Berth 5 and 6 by GT USA.

Deepening of Port Canaveral’s West Turning Basin facilitates access for deeper-draft containerships calling the box terminal operated by GT USA

Following unanimous approval by the Canaveral Port Authority Board of Commissioners, construction is slated to begin in March by Tampa-based Orion Marine Group, under a $17.9 million contract, on a new multipurpose North Cargo Berth 8, with 2,000-pounds-per-square-foot load-bearing capacity, to handle Port Canaveral’s growing cargo portfolio, including commercial spacecraft components and other heavylift items. Also, Port Canaveral is expecting to invest by yearend about $6 million in putting in place a mobile harbor crane designed specifically to move rocket boosters.

January marked the first call at Port Canaveral of supersized post-Panamax ships, with Mitsui O.S.K. Lines’ Brooklands car carrier, offering capability to transport more than 7,400 vehicles, arriving from Asia at the AutoPort Canaveral LLC facility after transit through expanded Panama Canal locks.

Port of Palm Beach

Having finished the $18.5 million redevelopment of its Slip 3, the Port of Palm Beach, located in Riviera Beach, is methodically advancing a $12 million project to build a new minislip at Berth 17, to accommodate stern-in mooring of a 350-foot-long roll-on/roll-off vessel. With additional dolphin structure work being required, the Feb. 15 substantial completion date for the Berth 17 project has had to be extended.

Container operations of Tropical Shipping continue to constitute the leading activity at the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach.

Also progressing at the 162-acre Port of Palm Beach, with a targeted completion in fall 2020, is a project to demolish the longtime maritime offices building and add 3 acres to the refrigerated cargo storage area utilized by Tropical Shipping. Founded in 1963, Tropical Shipping, which transports food and other consumer goods to the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations, has long been the port’s biggest tenant.

A nearly $1 million endeavor is moving toward projected August completion of the first phase of expansion of the on-port rail facility at the Port of Palm Beach, which in its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2017, handled 9 percent more railcars than in the preceding 12-month period.

Port Everglades

In South Florida’s Broward County, new cargo berths and super-post-Panamax gantries are in store for the Port Everglades Southport Container Complex. The $437.5 million expansion, the largest project in the port’s history, is designed to deliver as many as five new cargo berths by lengthening the existing Southport Turning Notch to 2,400 feet from 900 feet. The undertaking, including installation of crane rail infrastructure to support super-post-Panamax gantries, is projected for completion by 2021. The port has three such big cranes on order, for $13.8 million apiece, with an option to buy three more.

The Southport Container Complex at Port Everglades is site of the largest infrastructure endeavor in the Broward County port’s history.

To further enhance ship traffic at Port Everglades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward with a progressive plan to deepen navigation channels to between 48 feet and 50 feet from 42 feet and widen narrower sections to facilitate safer vessel passage. Having received congressional authorization in December 2016, the channel project is in the preconstruction engineering and design phase.

Also, Port Everglades in January inked a fresh long-term lease with Horizon Terminal Services LLC, which is investing $630,000 in a new vehicle-processing facility.


With the past few years having brought completion of channel deepening to 50 feet (plus 2 feet of overdredge), establishment of on-dock Florida East Coast Railway intermodal rail service and opening of the PortMiami Tunnel under Biscayne Bay, Miami-Dade County’s PortMiami is living up to its “big-ship ready” promise thanks to more than $1.3 billion in infrastructure investments.

PortMiami boasts a 50-foot-deep channel, facilitating calls by megavessels of carrier alliances, including big ships transiting the expanded Panama Canal.

In mid-2017, PortMiami, with six super-post-Panamax cranes among its contingent of 13 container gantries, welcomed Maersk Line’s Maersk Shanghai as the first containership with a capability of carrying more than 10,000 TEUs to call a Florida seaport. Whereas the recent PortMiami enhancements were largely directed at attracting calls from ocean carrier alliance megavessels passing through expanded Panama Canal locks, the 10,081-TEU-capacity Maersk ship had transited the Suez Canal.

While realizing moves of containerized cargo at an annual pace of 1 million TEUs, PortMiami, formally known as the Dante B. Fascell Port of Miami, also continues to uphold its trademarked status as Cruise Capital of the World, with recent passenger terminal expansions and more than 5 million handlings a year of multiday cruisers.

Port of Miami River

The Miami River, with its 15-foot-deep navigational channel, has for decades provided comparatively small shipping companies an important link to shallow-draft ports of the Caribbean, most notably those of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and a new study now indicates prospects for significantly greater cargo activity along the downtown Miami waterway.

Tugs are critical to safe movement of ships along the Miami River, which could see a doubling in vessel activity.

A Miami River freight improvement plan report presented in January by Atkins North America Inc. consultants on behalf of the Florida Department of Transportation shows cargo vessel movement on the river could potentially more than double, propelled by the possibility of proposed container-on-barge service with nearby PortMiami, which could bring annual movement of as many as 64,800 TEUs of containerized cargo.

The plan cites several matters that may need to be addressed to facilitate more Miami River ship traffic, including improved road, rail, marine and intermodal connections; better terminal truck staging; and development of a truck service facility. The recent inclusion of the Miami River in FDOT’s Strategic Intermodal System program has made the river port eligible for state and federal funding that could give such enhancements a jumpstart.