Port of Miami - The Cruise and Cargo Gateway to the World
It was nearly 11 am, as I arrived at this tropic port for my three-hour tour, two of which would no doubt be dedicated to finding the appointed rendezvous area on Dodge Island. I was on my second trip along the looping roadway outside the administrative section, whose semi-circular curves had deposited me back unto the return expressway and off once more to mainland Miami before I’d realized what was happening.
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AT THE PORT OF MIAMI
The second time around, venturing once again along the road between the American Airlines Arena and Bayside Marketplace, I made the required exit, making sure to keep a keen eye out for Dan Cowan, the Public Relations Officer for Port of Miami who would escort me into the more guarded areas of the port. “The Port of Miami itself,” he’d mentioned over the phone, “isn’t a very touristy spot”—though in a given year, about 4,000,000 people pass through it. Nonetheless, he was happy to show me around, as he tried to figure out exactly what my job description was.
“Are you a reporter?” he had asked, good-naturedly enough.
“Well….sort of!” had been my unsure reply. Travel writer…reporter…forum kvetcher...I wore many hats.
COME ABOARD—WE’RE EXPECTING YOU
The plan was for me to meet him outside the Port offices in my trusty Tercel, and he would ride with me into a nearby parking garage, kindly saving me the expense of the $7 ticket. I kept my eyes gleaned as I surveyed the surroundings, trying to imagine what my guide would look like. I slowed down as I past throngs of people: a mix of dock workers, tourists, administrators….secretaries. One stand-out was a furry denizen who reigned over the courtyard outside the Trade Center, the Port of Miami’s own Mascot-apparent—at cat with bright blue eyes.
Figuring that Dan was probably a little less furry and somewhat taller, I continued to coast along, scrutinizing the crowd. Finally, I locked eyes with a chipper fellow standing by the curb who seemed to be looking for a ride. Fortunately, it was the right guy! He jumped in quickly, helping to prevent me from being pummeled by the large truck behind me, and after an enthusiastic hello, guided me to the roof of the parking structure, where his van awaited.
A jovial, polite man in his 50’s, his demeanor seemed more suitable to a congenial city like Seattle than the no-nonsense town of Miami. But looks could be deceiving, I learned: Dan was a lifelong Miami resident, and had worked at the Port for the past 30 years.
Exiting my car, I surveyed the exquisite view. It could have just as easily been a scene out of Miami Vice: in the distance, toward the north side, the cruise ships towered, silent and mighty, while luggage-toting families hopped eagerly out of cabs and across pedestrian walkways toward the terminals in front of them. The South side, on the other hand, was the domain of the cargo ships, their bellies laden with sundry treasures, coming and going from exotic far-away destinations. The Port of Miami, I later learned, is one of the few in the world that preside over both cruise ships and cargo.
In addition to his public relations duties, Dan also acted as the Port photographer. He was fortunately well-acquainted with all the choice vantage points. Handing me a green visitors tag (so the security wouldn’t shoot first and ask questions later), he led me over to the northeast corner of the structure, giving us a bird’s eye view of the north side of the port.
SET A COURSE FOR ADVENTURE
Sturdy edifices of gleaming, reinforced glass, their insides adorned with hanging art, the terminals were a pleasing blend of aesthetics and functionality: the newest of the bunch, Terminals D and E, were state of the art edifices where security and inspection could be taken care of with streamlined, convenient efficiency; the passengers paraded through them with ease as they headed off to their three, four-day excursions, in addition to more extended Caribbean itineraries.
The ships loomed just beyond, emblazoned with the logos of Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity, Crystal, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean, just a few of the choices for sailing out of Miami. Which among them was the best to take? Dan was diplomatic, no doubt, but his answer made sense: it wasn’t the company that was the defining element: it was the newness of the ship.
Recent additions to the fleet included Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom; the largest: Royal Caribbean’s sister vessels Liberty of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas —each of which featured a capacity of 3,634 passengers.
After snapping a few choice pics, we hopped in the van, and over toward the other side of the Port.
Among the topics of conversation: the cruise industry’s environmental impact. Dan informed me that the Port of Miami works closely with groups such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Coral Reef Task Force in carrying out the “Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative”. This agreement arranges for the conservation, monitoring and management of coral reef species.
Part of the plan involves the creation of 11 artificial reefs in Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic, where these species can flourish. In addition, the Port maintains ongoing dialogue with the Tropical Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Save the Manatee Club, and others, to avoid adverse impact to local species, including manatees, sea turtles, smalltooth sawfish, American crocodiles and whales. They also work to restore mangroves, and maintain an oil spill response program, an electrified gantry crane program, and have introduced hybrid vehicles for Port use.
Toward the southwestern edge of this 528-acre seaport was an additional cruise ship docking area, set off from rest. This was where the boutique, mainly European ships dropped anchor: Among them, the prestigious 694-passenger Azamara Journey and the 710-passenger Azamara Quest, the newest additions to the Celebrity Cruises family. In addition to Azamara, Fred Olsen and Oceania also rank among the elite here, the Gucci and Armani of the cruising industry.
Further east, after another security clearance, we ventured into the storage yards.
MARKETPLACE OF THE WORLD
“The Port of Miami is a clean port,” commented Dan. “It’s all containerized—no fertilizers or bulk chemicals.” It was the largest container port in Florida and ninth largest in the United States; experiencing the sheer vastness and size of the objects around me made me feel like a flea by comparison.
“It contributes over 16 million dollars to the regional economy and provides over 110,000 port-related jobs.”
Before us loomed stacks and stacks of metallic boxes, while immense gantry cranes rose in the distance. Dan explained that the transport of these 20 and 40 foot containers on and off the ships was the job of longshoremen (I’d always wondered what longshoremen did!).
“We measure the containers in TEU’s—twenty foot equivalent units—so a 40-foot unit counts as two. Each year, nearly 1,000,000 TEUs of cargo comes through the Port.”
Dan enthusiastically drove us around to a dock where trucks were busy transporting material back and forth from a nearby ship. Nearby stood dozens of jeeps and assorted types of construction equipment, destined for Costa Rica. We darted around them, nearly missing a rather territorial forklift, as we moved closer toward the ship’s hull, where the goods were being loaded.
“These, we call the Ro-Ro’s,” Dan continued. “As in ‘Roll on, Roll off”—it’s a cheaper alternative to the gantry cranes, especially common for port destinations in Central and South America.
Eyeing the massive volume of containerized materials huddled together in pile after pile coming and going from these banana belts, I wondered how many drugs made it through. Dan explained that, while such things were closely monitored, the number one trading partner at the Port was actually a country less known for its narcotics exports: China. This seemed a bit counter-intuitive, given our proximity to Latin America. After China, next up was Hong Kong (still considered separate in the shipping industry), followed by Honduras, Italy, Colombia and Germany.
Among the most popular items shipped: stone, clay, cement, apparel, refrigerated fruits and vegetables, beverages, and plastic and rubber goods.
“At the Port of Miami, unlike many ports, once the ships leave, it’s two miles to the shipping lanes. Many ports take much longer.” Dan was a wealth of facts. Another interesting tidbit?
“The harbor has been dredged to 42 feet up to 50 feet, and 53 feet at the turning basin. The earth displaced in the dredging was used to form the manmade islands in the area, including the isles of Palm, Hibiscus, and much of what today is the exclusive resort community of Fisher Island.” He must do this in his sleep!
Out across the water, Fisher Island sat in the distance. Dolphins playfully jumped in front of it, almost as if on cue. The sky was a mix of clouds and sun.
We continued eastward, passing underneath the impressive gantry cranes. Two newer ones, even larger than the rest, caught my attention. Dan noted that these were state-of-the-art “Super-Post Panamax” cranes, able to load and unload ships with berths of up to 22 containers wide.
Soon, we’d arrived at the tip of the island. Toward the north, I could see the skyscrapers of South Beach across Government Cut, while directly in front of us was an unusual little yellow boat.
“The ship captains don’t pilot their vessels in and out of the harbor. This is done by pilots in these little boats. Once out of the harbor, the ship captains take over.”
Nearby were odd-looking black cylindrical objects, rubber bumpers to cushion the ships pulling up alongside the docks.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
After taking the time to grab some chocolate Zingers and some sodas, we headed back along side, past some of the older buildings, including one cargo dock that had been built in the 60’s, which now sat out-of-place on the cruising side of the island.
“We’re just waiting for a new cruise-ship company to come in and construct a new terminal!” he smiled, noting that he would soon be retiring to make room for “new blood”—and would possibly not be there to see it.
Nearly half a billion dollars has been set aside for improvement of the Port infrastructure, as part of a Capital Improvement Program, which includes projects both planned and currently in place:
THE PORT OF MIAMI TUNNEL
The Florida Department of transportation, Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, and the private sector are combining their efforts to create a Port of Miami Tunnel Project that will link the Port directly to the interstate highway system. Currently scheduled for completion in 2012, this 1 billion dollar project promises to alleviate congestion in the downtown area by shifting traffic away from that confusing bridge I rode in on!
16-LANE GATE COMPLEX: Already in use, this new gate complex boasts 10 inbound lanes and six outbound lanes, complete with a FastPass processing system and a prepaid scale program to facilitate the swift and efficient movement of truck traffic through the gate complex. Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs) and other unintrusive inspection devices insure the necessary security, without slowing down the cargo-transportation process.
PORT ENTRANCE PLAZA: A tropically landscaped entrance plaza is slated for the mainland side of the access bridge. It will include a monument, commemorating transportation industry pioneers, as well as a “globe-shaped sculpture,” ensuring that Bayside Marketplace doesn’t get all the attention.
As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but envy Dan’s dedication and passion for his work, and his upbeat, friendly attitude. I wish him well after his retirement, though I’m sure he’ll make out just fine. He’ll probably be sailing VIP across the world on whatever Love Boat he chooses for quite some time to come!
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"Port of Miami - The Cruise and Cargo Gateway to the World"