Located on the Columbia River on the far northern tip of North Portland, Terminal 6 is set up with cranes to load and unload container ships. But it’s been largely idle since 2015, when Hanjin Shipping and Hapag Lloyd America ended regular service.
A slowdown by members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was blamed for the pullout, but other factors increasingly make container shipping to Portland a challenge: To make it to Portland, ocean-going ships must get through a difficult crossing at the mouth of the Columbia River and then travel 107 miles through a shipping channel that’s just 43 feet deep.
The SM Lines ships that will stop in Portland can carry the equivalent of 4,500 20-foot containers, much smaller than the ultra-large vessels that are coming to be the standard for container shipping. The new larger ships carry the equivalent of 10,000, 15,000 or more 20-foot containers, but they require a shipping channel that’s just under 50 feet deep.
To lure SM Lines, Oregon Governor Kate Brown offered a public subsidy of $500,000 from the lottery-funded Strategic Reserve Fund, the Oregonian reported. It’s not the first time the fund has been tapped for shipping: In 2017, Swire Shipping was given a $250,000 incentive to begin serving the terminal once every 35 days, but it ended service earlier this year.