The Domino Sugar refinery in Baltimore receives raw sugar from both domestic and foreign sources. One of the ships delivering to the plant last month seems to have gotten caught in a maritime traffic jam off Brazil.
The bulk carrier Clipper Terminus, which is operated by the Denmark-based Clipper Group and has a cargo-lifting capacity of more than 30,000 tons, called at the Domino refinery in late August. The ship was carrying raw sugar loaded in the southern Brazilian port of Santos. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of sugar, accounting for more than 50 percent of exports globally, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Santos and Paranagua are the two main ports handling this flow.
But in 2010, surging demand for Brazilian sugar and unusually rainy weather has conspired to create a longer-than-usual backlog of ships waiting to load at these ports. Santos Associados Consultoria (SAC), a shipping agent and consultant in Santos, noted on 19 July that 47 ships were waiting to load sugar.
“…A shipment that took a week now needs 40 days, bringing general damages,” SAC said in an online report. By early August, the queue reached 135 ships, before drier weather helped loading terminals pick up the pace.
The queue wait time had decreased by early September to only 29 days, but that’s still longer than the 20 days registered last year. SAC blamed both the rain and the fact that Santos only has seven sugar-loading berths for the growing delays.
The online ship-tracking service MarineTraffic.com said Clipper Terminus had an estimated time of arrival at Santos of 3 July, but according to the Santos port pilot schedule, the ship did not start moving toward a berth until 31 July. The vessel took approximately six days to load, after which it sailed for Baltimore. It arrived here around 21 August and departed on the 31 August.
In 2009, more than 715,000 short tons of sugar imports entered the United States through Baltimore, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data, which was a 10 percent drop from 2008. Overall U.S. sugar imports may be greater this year, since the Department of Agriculture in August extended the dates under which fiscal year 2010 and 2011 imports, which move under a tariff-rate quota system, can enter the country. USDA made the move after sugar users complained of possible shortages in domestically-produced sugar.
All raw cane sugar and refined sugar enter the United States under tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) that are designed to prop up domestic prices. There is a relatively low tariff on imports coming in before the quota is reached, and a higher tariff on those entering after the quota is exceeded.