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Port of Mobile to remain hub: executive

Keywords: Tags  Alabama State Port Authority, James K. Lyons, Mobile, Alabama, Calvert, ThyssenKrupp, SSAB Americas, Nucor steel products

NEW YORK — The Alabama State Port Authority expects steel's role to increase even with the uncertainty surrounding ThyssenKrupp AG’s steel rolling facility in Calvert, Ala.

The agency has been investing in upgrades to steel services as steel products become an increasing part of its business mix, according to James K. Lyons, director and chief executive officer of the Mobile-based port authority.

Despite some tailing off in the latter part of 2012, the Port of Mobile has seen a growing number of slab imports thanks to ThyssenKrupp’s operations in Calvert. This year, some 1.97 million tonnes of slab were imported by the United States in January to September, according to U.S. Census data compiled by AMM. That compares with just shy of 1.6 million tonnes in the same period a year ago.

Essen, Germany-based ThyssenKrupp is seeking a partnership or sale for its Steel Americas investments after the division has posted large losses, thanks to surging costs in its Brazilian slab operations and a weaker-than-expected North American steel market (, May 15).

Until more details emerge as to who may take the reins at Calvert, the future for that portion of the port’s business will likely remain a bit uncertain, Lyons noted.

“A lot of it depends on the buyer, and that’s a bit of an unknown. It’s, I guess, a question that we all have,” Lyons said. “What I do see today is that there’s not enough slab steel in the United States.”

Lyons said he could foresee slabs continuing to be sourced from Brazil, or from Russia or Ukraine. ThyssenKrupp’s current model includes a slab-producing joint venture in Brazil, with ThyssenKrupp holding a 73.13-percent stake and Vale SA holding the remainder. The slabs are then shipped to Alabama to be processed.

“It would be hard for me to envision a supply chain that would not involve our facility,” Lyons said.

It’s not just slab imports that will keep the port busy, according to Lyons.

“Our steel business has largely been imported ... but export has become increasingly important. Certainly ThyssenKrupp is an important factor in that. But we have a lot of other steel mills that are well within our competitive hinterland,” he said, pointing to the proximity of domestic steel producers SSAB Americas and Nucor Corp., both of which have facilities in Alabama.

SSAB, for example, has said it plans to produce quenched-and-tempered plate at its Axis, Ala., facility for export to China (, Nov. 2).

Given its location, Lyons said that he expects Mobile to be a “crossroads” for steel trade, noting that Mexico will likely be a big market for many steel products, particularly as that country’s automotive manufacturing industry continues to grow.

Meanwhile, the port is pushing forward with its steel-focused updates with a repaving project at Pier C completed about two months ago, Lyons said (, Feb. 29).

The port has also selected a location at the pier’s north end for a new warehouse designed specifically for handling cold-rolled coils, Lyons told AMM. The warehouse will be about 200,000 square feet, with the potential to be expanded to 400,000 square feet.

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