Chinese shipping firm's US job-creation story

Updated: 2012-10-30 17:37


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BEIJING/BOSTON, the United States -- It is a windy day with rain showers. The Port of Boston is busy as usual, with towering cranes plucking containers from a giant vessel.

But over a decade ago, the port was confronted with a crisis of existence, with thousands of jobs at risk. Things took a turn when a Chinese shipping company came to the rescue.

China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company, or COSCO, a Beijing-based shipping firm headquartered about 10,000 km away from Boston, "helped the city's languishing port become thriving again," recalled Gene Hartigan, a 62-year-old Bostonian native and father of two daughters.

Hartigan served as an adviser to the Chinese largest shipping firm over the past ten years and witnessed COSCO's operation at the port, which brought well-paid jobs to Boston, US state of Massachusetts for dock workers and others who had kids to support and mortgages to pay.

In recognition of the Chinese firm's contribution to the local economy, the International Longshoremen's Association, the leading union of maritime workers in North America, in March awarded Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao "Best Friend of the American Worker" at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the partnership between the US port and COSCO.

Timely rescue

At the turn of this century, the Port of Boston, the oldest continually active major port in the Western Hemisphere, was on the verge of closure, and thousands of jobs supported by the port's operation were at stake.

In 2000, the Port of Boston's container cargo business was at a "low point" in its history after Danish shipping titan Maersk Line and its partners closed their lines to the port, said David Mackey, CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport).

Massport owns and operates the public terminals in the Port of Boston and Boston Logan International Airport, along with other aviation facilities and commercial real estate.

The situation got even worse after the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001 dealt a heavy blow to the US economy and particularly the transportation sector.

It had been a difficult time for Massport and the port, before the win-win collaboration with COSCO was inked, Mackey said.

The Chinese shipping firm started its direct cargo route to Boston on March 21, 2002, six months after the Sept 11 attacks. Today, the Port of Boston remains a vital transportation and economic resource for New England since Boston's founding in 1630.

When Wei Jiafu, COSCO's Chairman, came to Boston in March 2002, "it was a real high point of our history," Mackey noted.

The arrival of Chinese shipping company helped preserve and create thousands of jobs over the last decade. The port's overall activity currently supports 34,000 jobs and contributes more than $2 billion annually to the local, regional and national economies, said Deborah Hadden, Massport's Current Port Director.

Volume on the COSCO service has surged from 40 ship visits and 23,401 TEUs (17,000 containers) in 2002 to 76 ship visits and 122,882 TEUs (70,000 containers) in 2011, according to Hadden.

The total cargo volume of COSCO and its partners now account for about half of the annual cargo volume at the Conley Container Terminal of Port of Boston, the New England's maritime hub.

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