August 30, 2021 / 1:20 PM Port Houston has begun its search for contractors to widen the Houston Ship Channel after signing a partnership agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the project.

The agreement was the final step before soliciting contract proposals for the first phase of construction. At a ceremony with members of Congress Thursday, Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther said those requests for proposals have already gone out.

"This day is historic, very important," Guenther said. "There's been many steps along the way, getting authorization and appropriation for ‘new start,' but now we're leaning forward and now we're free to make contracts and start turning dirt, as we say."

The Water Resources and Development Act of 2020, which Congress authorized in December, awarded Port Houston $19.5 million for the construction.

That came after the port and the Army Corps completed a feasibility study on the project in 2019.

Guenther said he hoped to start digging before the end of this year and complete Phase 1 — from Galveston to Morgan's Point near La Porte — within the next three years.

The $1.1 billion local-federal project will widen and deepen the Houston Ship Channel to allow more and larger vessels to come through.

Guenther said it has become necessary due to growing demand from industries and also the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016.

The Democratic and Republican members of Congress who spoke during the ceremony at the Port Houston headquarters lauded the importance of the port for the nation's economy and celebrated the bipartisan support for the project. 

"This is something that we don't have a partisan position on," said U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston. "It concerns our city, our county, our state, our country, and on these issues we tend to stand together."

August 23, 2021 / 6:30 AM Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine has been known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, and will now be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee), for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.” 

Since Dec. 11, 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has been available under EUA in individuals 16 years of age and older, and the authorization was expanded to include those 12 through 15 years of age on May 10, 2021. EUAs can be used by the FDA during public health emergencies to provide access to medical products that may be effective in preventing, diagnosing, or treating a disease, provided that the FDA determines that the known and potential benefits of a product, when used to prevent, diagnose, or treat the disease, outweigh the known and potential risks of the product.

FDA-approved vaccines undergo the agency’s standard process for reviewing the quality, safety and effectiveness of medical products. For all vaccines, the FDA evaluates data and information included in the manufacturer’s submission of a biologics license application (BLA). A BLA is a comprehensive document that is submitted to the agency providing very specific requirements. For Comirnaty, the BLA builds on the extensive data and information previously submitted that supported the EUA, such as preclinical and clinical data and information, as well as details of the manufacturing process, vaccine testing results to ensure vaccine quality, and inspections of the sites where the vaccine is made. The agency conducts its own analyses of the information in the BLA to make sure the vaccine is safe and effective and meets the FDA’s standards for approval. 

Comirnaty contains messenger RNA (mRNA), a kind of genetic material. The mRNA is used by the body to make a mimic of one of the proteins in the virus that causes COVID-19. The result of a person receiving this vaccine is that their immune system will ultimately react defensively to the virus that causes COVID-19. The mRNA in Comirnaty is only present in the body for a short time and is not incorporated into - nor does it alter - an individual’s genetic material. Comirnaty has the same formulation as the EUA vaccine and is administered as a series of two doses, three weeks apart. 

“Our scientific and medical experts conducted an incredibly thorough and thoughtful evaluation of this vaccine. We evaluated scientific data and information included in hundreds of thousands of pages, conducted our own analyses of Comirnaty’s safety and effectiveness, and performed a detailed assessment of the manufacturing processes, including inspections of the manufacturing facilities,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “We have not lost sight that the COVID-19 public health crisis continues in the U.S. and that the public is counting on safe and effective vaccines. The public and medical community can be confident that although we approved this vaccine expeditiously, it was fully in keeping with our existing high standards for vaccines in the U.S."


August 20, 2021 / 11:50 AM Maersk this year introduced a new contract product that avoids a dependence on large-volume shippers accurately forecasting their weekly and monthly allocations in lieu of a more flexible option that functions like the container line’s mutually enforceable spot product unveiled two years ago.

Uptake of the product, which Maersk said has reached 10 percent of its total contract volume, reflects the difficulties importers face in pinpointing what they need in a given week. It is designed to give those shippers a way to secure the capacity they need for a higher price than they would have paid under a traditional minimum quantity commitment-based (MQC) contract, but less than on the red-hot spot market.

The new product, which Maersk has been using for a few months, challenges the long-held belief in the ocean freight industry that accurate demand forecasting from shippers leads to better network planning and better capacity utilization for container lines.

The product is an evolution from the Maersk Spot dynamic pricing tool the carrier introduced in June 2019, targeted at bringing mutually enforceable terms into the long-term contract realm.

“We and shippers were going blue in the face trying to get forecasts right,” said Johan Sigsgaard, global head of ocean products at Maersk. “It’s something customers were having to update two times a week, and it’s manual, but it didn’t impact downfall (on container no-shows).”

Typical annual or long-term ocean freight contracts either give shippers a rigid allotment of space each week, based on dividing the total volume committed to the line by 52 weeks, or they allow for variations week to week based on the shipper conveying forecast allocations a number of weeks prior to a sailing. Those forecasts can be inaccurate and the timeline before they are finalized can vary from three months before a sailing departure to a few days.

Accommodating overflow volume

The Maersk product is based on adding prebuilt tolerances to the estimated allocation a shipper needs each week, with the tolerance decided between Maersk and the customer. For example, if a shipper and Maersk agree to a 20 percent tolerance, and the shipper believes it will need 100 FEU each week, instead of agreeing to limit the customer to an allocation of exactly 100 FEU, Maersk will allow the shipper to add up to 20 FEU of overflow volume each week as long as the bookings for that overflow are made two weeks prior to vessel departure.

“The main pain for us lies in the last two weeks of no-shows,” Sigsgaard said. “If we can wipe that away, it will take away the vast majority of the problem. The rest we can solve with Spot and with our forecast. If a booking is made two weeks out, but the container doesn’t show, that’s when the two-way commitment penalty kicks in. If the bookings don’t come in two weeks before, those slots get released to the spot market with no penalty to the shipper.”

In essence, shipper behavior, and Maersk’s confidence in its own ability to forecast capacity availability based on its understanding of customer behavior, replaces the need to commit to MQCs and for shippers to continuously update changing demand forecasts.

“We’re using machine learning to figure out how the spot market is developing,” he said. “Our data science team knows how to build our forecast based on the signals, looking at historical patterns, the timing of bookings, and aggregate booking behavior.”

The new product can be viewed as a tool for Maersk customers to get flexibility and guaranteed capacity in lieu of a more rigid forecast/MQC model.

In an MQC, a cargo owner commits to shipping a specified volume of freight with a shipping line, and the carrier commits to providing the space to move that volume. But in practice, MQCs are often not met by one party or the other, depending on the underlying supply/demand situation in the market.

“The MQC or volume conversation is good to set the framework, but as a commercial or legal thing to beat each other up with, we’re giving up on that,” Sigsgaard said.

Expansion will come when market calms

That does not mean Maersk’s entire inventory of capacity is available via the new flexible contracting model. Sigsgaard said Maersk initially allotted 10 percent of its total contractual volume to the new product this year, and it sold out before the program even started.

“It’s a bit of an extreme year to launch this product,” he said. “We’ve had more demand than we can sell. We could have sold significantly more of this product than we did this year.”

The self-imposed cap was implemented because the contract comes with a delivery guarantee that is tricky to manage in an environment fraught with port congestion, equipment shortages, and other COVID-19-induced disruptions.

“Just getting 10 percent with a proper service delivery is difficult this year,” he said. “When we can be more confident on the delivery side, we’ll look to expand this significantly next year.”

Sigsgaard said the interest in the product is driven by “clear and dependable access to space, combined with the delivery promise. Right now, the space is more important than the delivery promise. We think when the market stabilizes, there will be just as much significance in the delivery promise. Our belief is this is not just short-term behavior that will revert.”

As for the shippers that have gravitated to the product, he said it has mostly been large-volume shippers that have a base load of volume that varies marginally on a given week, with their more dynamic week-to-week needs met by the spot market. 

“We’re solving an old problem in a new way,” Sigsgaard said. “The customer can get the flexibility they need. And we get visibility into true demand because it’s the same two-way commitment as Spot.”

August 19, 2021 / 6:50 PM This year’s Gig Harbor Maritime Festival has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, according to a press release from the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

The move was quickly followed by City of Gig Harbor, which canceled the remaining two concerts in its popular Summer Sounds series at Skansie Park, as well as a scheduled outdoor movie.

“We are very concerned about the health and safety of our community members, performers, vendors, volunteers and staff, and that is why we decided that canceling was the right thing to do,” chamber president and CEO Warren Zimmerman said in the press release announcing the Maritime Gig cancellation on Tuesday.The festival was scheduled to occur this weekend, Aug. 21-22.

In a press release Wednesday, the city said it was canceling the concert series “out of an abundance of caution and in light of Pierce County’s rising case rate due to the Delta variant.

“We look forward to bringing the event back in person in 2022, and hosting events for the holiday season when we are able to do so safety,” said Laura Pettitt, the city’s communications and tourism director.

The decision to cancel the maritime festival was made Tuesday afternoon, according to Zimmerman. The number of COVID-19 cases reported in the state has been rising and with the Delta variant present, there is an “increased health threat to the community.”

“The Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce made plans to host the event in-person again this year back in the spring when COVID-19 cases were significantly lower. Unfortunately, over the last few weeks the region has seen the delta variant quickly spread. Based on current conditions, the chamber believes that the risk is too high for the event to continue,” Zimmerman said.

The Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce plans to host the festival “when it is once again safe to do so.” The chamber is tentatively planning on June 4-5, 2022.

The Maritime Festival was also canceled last summer due to the pandemic outbreak. It was delayed until August this summer in hopes the pandemic would recede, but the surge in the new Delta variant raised new concerns.

The two canceled Skansie concerts were to have featured The Paperboys on August 24 and the country recording artist Nate Botsford on August 31. The Friday Movie in the Park on August 27 was to have been “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

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