The geographic distribution of container activity among U.S. seaports shows a greater concentration of vessel calls and cargo traffic in a few leading ports because of increased demand for larger, faster, and more specialized vessels. Today, maxi-Panamax superfreighter vessels are much longer than two football fields and can carry up to 12,500 TEUs.7
In 2008, the top 10 U.S. container ports accounted for 86 percent of containerized imports and exports (measured in TEUs), up from 78 percent in 1995. Five of the top 10 container ports in the United States are on the west coast, four are on the east coast, and one on the gulf coast (table 3).
From 1995 to 2008, Los Angeles and Long Beach grew the most in terms of absolute level of container traffic, reflecting increased U.S. trade with Pacific Rim8 countries, particularly China, and the transportation of higher-value per ton Asian manufactured goods into the United States. New York followed closely, showing significant growth in U.S. trade with Europe. The ports of Savannah, Los Angeles, and Houston had the largest average annual growth rates (table 3). The growth rates for Savannah and Houston reflect the expansion in U.S. container trade with Latin American countries and changes in the location of freight logistics and distribution service centers.
Despite the national economic slowdown, container cargo handled by the Port of Savannah grew 4 percent in 2008 over 2007, the fastest growth among the leading container ports. Between 1995 and 2005, oceanborne containerized cargo handled there increased by 13 percent, making it the fastest growing port in the nation. This growth in Savannah's containerized traffic also underscores the increase in retail import distribution centers in the Savannah area-several national retailers have established large distribution centers there for handling the thousands of TEUs transiting the nation's seaports.
7 These vessels are twice as large as the post-Panamax vessels. Post-Panamax vessels are too large to pass through the Panama Canal. They can carry up to 6,500 TEUs. They typically have widths exceeding 32.2 meters (105.6 feet). Recent designs of these vessels are able to carry more than 12,000 TEUs. The world's largest container vessel, Emma Maersk, commissioned in 2006, is officially listed as an 11,000 TEU ship, but its cargo capacity is estimated to range from 13,000 to 15,000 TEUs (http://about.maersk.com/en/Fleet/Pages/Fleet.aspx).