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Philly's Port Has Its First China Shipping Route As It Makes Play For Larger Role In U.S. Supply Chain

Philadelphia has its first sea shipping route with China, and the timing couldn't be more perfect.

A shipping barge at the Port of Philadelphia, laden with white shipping containers signifying refrigerated cargo, seen in 2016.

The Port of Philadelphia hosted the maiden call of the Wan Hai 315 container ship on Aug. 18, the first vessel to sail a new shipping route operated by Wan Hai Lines, at a ceremony attended by Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney. The route, Wan Hai Asia-America 9, makes stops in the Chinese ports of Shenzhen, Shanghai and Qingdao, as well as ports in Taiwan, Vietnam and Panama.

The AA9's berth in Philadelphia will be at Packer Marine Terminal in South Philly, operated by Holt Logistics.

Securing a first route with China is a result of state funding Wolf poured into improvements at PhilaPort: $330M in 2016 that, among other things, allowed the port to accept the largest class of ship that can fit through the Panama Canal, and another $246M committed in February.

Further funding increases could be on the way from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed late last year. In addition, the private companies that operate PhilaPort's terminals are investing in their own improvements to increase the convenience of importing dry retail goods. As it stands, Philly's importing niche is in food, but a new terminal is adding a specialization in automobile imports while the pandemic created a decent business importing personal protective equipment, representatives from PhilaPort told Bisnow.

PhilaPort's volumes in the broad consumer goods market pale in comparison to larger East Coast ports like Savannah, Georgia; Norfolk, Virginia; and New York and New Jersey, in particular, but all of those have begun experiencing backlogs of dozens of ships, The Wall Street Journal reports. Months of shipping companies avoiding the congestion at West Coast ports has swung the pendulum to the other side of the Panama Canal.

“This [route] will not resolve U.S. supply chain problems," a PhilaPort spokesperson told Bisnow. "But it can serve as a pressure release valve to ease some East Coast backlog, because ships won’t have to sit out in a harbor for days.”