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Big ship coming to Bellingham; Port hopes more to follow

The 590-foot MV Diana Bolten is scheduled to arrive in Bellingham on Sept. 28 and unload 10,700 metric tons of organic corn and soybeans.
The 590-foot MV Diana Bolten is scheduled to arrive in Bellingham on Sept. 28 and unload 10,700 metric tons of organic corn and soybeans. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A very big ship will soon be arriving in Bellingham Bay, another sign the shipping business is finally making a comeback in the area.

10,700 metric tons of organic corn and soybeans arriving in Bellingham on the ship MV Diana Bolten.

The 590-foot MV Diana Bolten is scheduled to dock at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal on Sept. 28 and unload 10,700 metric tons of organic corn and soybeans that are destined for local markets, according to the Port of Bellingham. As of Thursday afternoon, the ship was nearing the Panama Canal.

The corn and soybeans are coming from Turkey, a major exporter of organic products to the U.S. The corn and soybeans are expected to be unloaded at one of the shipping terminal’s warehouses and distributed to producers of organic livestock in northwest Washington and southern British Columbia.

This is the first arrival of cargo to the Bellingham Shipping Terminal in more than 17 years, according to Port spokesman Mike Hogan. The Port has been making improvements to lure shipping companies to Bellingham, including spending $500,000 to replace the roof on Warehouse 2, allowing it to be certified for the storage of organic grains. Other recent improvements in the area include the clean-up of the Whatcom Waterway, a new bulkhead and updated stormwater and power systems.

Earlier this year the Port signed an agreement to allow a company to export logs out of the shipping terminal. A ship is expected to arrive later this year to pick up its first load.

Consumer demand for organic grain products has been surging in recent years, creating this opportunity for Bellingham, said Chris Clark, the Port’s marine terminals business development manager.

Clark is also optimistic about the possibility of entering the break bulk shipping market. Break bulk cargo tends to involve goods that are loaded individually, like specialized construction equipment. Clark said the Port is currently in discussions with Bellingham-based Haskell Corp. about transporting modules, or pre-engineered building units.

Global shipping is one of those industries that has a strong job multiplier effect because of the labor needed, said Hart Hodges, director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University. Wages in the industry are relatively high, which also has an impact on the local economy.

Because of infrastructure and water depth, Bellingham is limited in the size of ships and cargo it can handle, making it unable to compete directly with Seattle, Tacoma or Vancouver, B.C. for the huge container ships. But there are small niche opportunities.

“There is a market for smaller boats with specific cargo,” said James McCafferty, who is also director at the business research center.

The large container business is also very competitive and a focus of the big ports, which gives places like Bellingham a chance to cater to the bulk container ships like the Diana Bolten.

“I expect there to be many more in Bellingham in the coming years,” Clark said, referring to the specialty container ships.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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