A supersized lesson
In late March, the shipping industry almost went sideways.
In darkness and buffeted by sandstorm winds, the supersized 1,312-foot Ever Given container ship’s bow snagged a sandbar on a bank of the Suez Canal. Its stern drifted toward the other bank, leaving the ship diagonally blocking one of the world’s busiest waterways.
For days, it was unclear how long it would take for the Ever Given to be freed. More than 400 other ships were effectively stranded in the canal. To some, this may have seemed minor news. To anyone associated with the maritime industry, though, it was a disaster with far-reaching and long-lasting implications for the global supply chain.
Virginia plays an outsized role in the world’s maritime economy. With the Suez blocked, we watched, wondering how it would impact us. Would Suez-bound ships be rerouted to Pacific ports or through the Panama Canal? How would that impact the Port of Virginia? What about perishable cargo? As much as 80% of global trade volume is transported by sea.
Fortunately, the Ever Given was unstuck after just six days; normal traffic resumed a few days later. Disaster may have been averted, but the warning should remain well noted.
Infrastructure investment has been a key factor in Virginia’s maritime success story. As container ships have grown in size, the industry has changed. There has been significant consolidation within the shipping industry. Larger ships have made the industry more efficient and dramatically reduced its carbon footprint, but accommodating these behemoths is a challenge for even the largest ports and an impossibility for others. Compared with other East Coast ports, Virginia has long enjoyed the natural advantage of a deepwater channel. Recent investments in dredging deeper, going wider and ultimately becoming safer have been important to maintaining that competitive advantage.
With investments in renewable energy picking up, offshore wind turbines promise an exciting new element for Virginia’s mix of maritime businesses. The growth of the commonwealth across the entire spectrum of onshore and offshore logistics, ship construction and repair, storage and distribution centers, and railways and trucking are all enhanced by the maritime industry’s success. In many instances, maritime-related companies are some of Virginia’s largest employers.
We hope that you will enjoy the 2021 Virginia Maritime Guide and use it to learn more about the industries, companies and associations that are the major players in our economy.
To compile this guide, we worked closely with the Virginia Maritime Association and the Port of Virginia. We thank them for their assistance and look forward to their ongoing success.
— Bernie Niemeier
President & Publisher