In the past year, the Marine Transportation System (MTS) has undergone significant changes. A fundamental shift in U.S. trading patterns has played a significant role. In 2007, favorable exchange rates buoyed U.S. exports, making them comparatively less expensive. Conversely, U.S. imports have slowed as the U.S. dollar has lost value against foreign currencies. In 2007, the container balance decreased, instead of increasing, for the first time in recent years (Table 2-4-12: U.S.-International Maritime Container Volumes). The container trade remains highly seasonal, fluctuating between lows in January and peaks in October (Figure 2-4-13: U.S. Foreign Waterborne Freight).
Port developments increased along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast, including new marine terminals in Jacksonville, FL, Jasper County, SC, Houston, TX, and Portsmouth, VA, among others in development or coming online. Ocean facilities account for the only growth in the number of commercial facilities. The number of Great Lakes, inland, and lock facilities remained the same (Table 2-1-10: U.S. Waterway Facilities).
Vessel capacity continues to rise as vessels grow in size, especially for combinations (Table 3-3-2: Average Capacity of Vessels Calling at U.S. Ports by Type). About 40 percent of U.S. flag vessels are more than 25-years old; dry barges and towboats account for 78 percent of this age group (Table 3-3-3: U.S. Flag Vessels by Type and Age). Vessel calls by tankers and gas carriers have increased, while combination carrier callings declined. Tankers account for 34 percent of vessel calls followed closely by containerships (31.1 percent) then distantly by dry bulk carriers (17.3 percent) (Table 3-3-5: Vessels Calls at U.S. Ports).
Ports along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coast have gained market share. More specifically, the ports of Norfolk, Houston, and Savannah have double-digit average annual growth rates. However, the Pacific Coasts ports, above all the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (LA/LB), still account for the majority of U.S. container imports (Table 3-3-4: Top 10 U.S. Maritime Container Ports). In 2007, the ports of LA/LB handled 37 percent of the total U.S. container volumes. Miami, Port Canaveral, and Fort Lauderdale are the leading cruise departure ports. Notably, in the 2007 season, New Orleans regained many of the cruise passengers lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (Table 3-3-1: North America Cruise Passengers by Departure Port)