Fiscal 2015 was a banner year for PortMiami. It not only saw the strongest container traffic in 10 years but also set a new record for cruise passengers.
During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, containerized cargo climbed 15 percent to 1,007,800 TEUs, which are the equivalent of a standard 20-foot container. Nearly 4.9 million cruise passengers sailed through the port in fiscal 2015, more than any other cruise port in the world.
The positive performance comes as PortMiami prepares to receive the big ships that will transit an expanded Panama Canal beginning April 2016. Some $1.3 billion has been spent to dredge and widen PortMiami’s shipping channel, complete a port tunnel to speed truck traffic, buy bigger post-Panamax cranes and build an on-port rail link. The port is now big-ship ready, but until the canal expansion is complete it can only receive bigger post-Panamax ships that come from Europe or transit the Suez Canal.
Latin America and Caribbean trade accounted for around half of the port’s shipping traffic last fiscal year, and Seaboard Marine, the largest cargo tenant at the port, led the way in handling Latin American and Caribbean cargo.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said things also were looking up financially at the port in 2015. It “was PortMiami’s best financial year; improving its coverage ratio, augmenting operating revenues to record numbers and increasing its reserve carryover to an all-time record,” he said.
Gimenez and PortMiami Director Juan M. Kuryla released the report on the port’s performance Wednesday at the Air and Sea Cargo Americas Conference. The event, which is being held at Miami Airport and Convention Center, concludes Friday.
Kuryla said that port operating revenue was up nearly 8 percent to $136 million and that operating income increased by 10 percent over the previous fiscal year.
He foresees even better things for fiscal 2016. He said the port expects to surpass 5 million cruise passengers for the first time and to beat this year’s container numbers.
“The sooner the Panama Canal opens, the better for us,” he said. In conversations with shipping lines, Kuryla said he has been getting “very, very positive feedback” that they are interested in deploying larger vessels through the Panama Canal and using PortMiami as their first port of call in the Southeastern United States and their last port of call before their ships head west through the canal.
But he said the lines can’t make final commitments to the port until they get an exact date for opening of the canal expansion.
The report also noted that many cruise lines have plans to expand their business at the port. Royal Caribbean Cruises plans a $150 million expansion that includes a new cruise terminal as part of a public-private partnership.
The Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Cruise Line’s new ship, will be christened in Miami next week and begin year-round sailings, and MSC Cruises plans to homeport its MSC Seaside in Miami beginning in the winter of 2017.
Even further out, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Cruises will bring three new ships to PortMiami and start offering seven-day trips to the Caribbean in 2020.
Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival Corporation’s fathom brand, and Aida Cruise Line also will be bringing more ships to PortMiami.