Port Operator Expresses Concern Over Competitive Challenges in the Pacific Northwest


Knud Stubkjaer is CEO of Carrix. You’ve probably never heard of the company, but if you have any dealings with seaports you know its subsidiary, SSA Marine, a 3rd-generation, Seattle-based company that loads and unloads ships at the ports of Seattle, Tacoma and throughout the United States and Latin America.

Speaking before an audience of regional leaders gathered at the Suncadia Lodge in Cle Elum Thursday, Stubkjaer said one of the key challenges facing ports around the world is the growing capacity of ships. Whereas a single ship carried 7,100 containers in 2006, today he says a single ship can carry 18,000 containers. If those containers on a single ship were placed on a single train, he noted, that train would be 72 miles long.

The number of containers that must be unloaded from a ship at once, he says, puts pressure on port operators to be more efficient in handling cargo. And that means an efficient flow of traffic to and from the port. “You have to make it more efficient for trucks to enter and leave our facility,” he says. While he didn’t mention the proposed construction of the basketball arena just outside one of its busiest terminals, it was clearly on his mind.

Stubkjaer reminded his audience that while the shipping business has been lucrative to the state—SSA Marine pays $1.2 billion in state and local taxes—that business is hardly guaranteed. The shippers can easily change their port of call. “Containers go where they are treated best.”

While traffic in and out of the port is a key challenge, (one that could be intensified by the proposed basketball arena) Stubkjaer says he faces two other key challenges. The harbor maintenance tax imposed by the federal government (used for dredging harbors outside Washington state), costs about $150 per container, about the same as all other costs combined of handling the containers. That makes it more attractive for shippers to look at ports like Port Prince Rupert in Canada, which does not have to pay the tax and also benefits from a subsidized railroad system.

Another challenge SSA Marine faces is regulations imposed by the state Department of Ecology with respect to storm water retention. Stubkjaer says it could cost the company heavily to comply with those regulations, which he says is the toughest in the country.