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Delaware River sees most shipping traffic since 2008, as Wilmington readies port expansion

Annie Ropeik/Delaware Public Media
The oil spill response vessel Delriver sits at the ready in Lewes, at the mouth of the Delaware River shipping channel.

The Delaware River saw the most shipping traffic in nearly a decade in 2015, thanks to growth in fruit, mineral, natural gas and other markets.

New data from the nonprofit trade group Maritime Exchange says just over 2,400 ships came in and out of ports on the river and bay last year. (Full disclosure: Maritime Exchange president Dennis Rochford is a Delaware Public Media board member.)


Operations manager Paul Myhre says it's a 5 percent increase from 2014, and 10 percent up from 2010.

"So that's a good sign, especially as they're building new ships, they're building them bigger, so they're holding more cargo," he says. "So for us to see an increase in the number and volume that's coming, it tends to speak to increasing the commodities as well."

The Delaware River's is the nation's fifth largest port complex, including the Port of Wilmington, the nation's top importer of bananas and other fresh fruits.

Wilmington is in the midst of undertaking a major port expansion along the Christina River. With the help of a $10 million federal Department of Transportation grant, they expect to remodel two nearly hundred-year-old berths, built when port first opened in 1923.

They're also reportedly adding two new cargo cranes by the end of this year and extending those that serve five other berths.

But up and down the river, Myhre says most of the new traffic came from natural gas, mineral and petroleum products from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale region, being processed at Sunoco's Marcus Hook refinery complex. It's just over the Delaware border near Claymont.

"Next year ... they're expecting to increase their production and output," Myhre says. "So we would anticipate an increase [in shipping traffic] for next year as well."

The Delaware River and Bay port complex contributes $53 billion dollars to the tri-state economy, including nearly $8 billion in wages and $781 million in state and local taxes. And it supports 135,000 jobs, according to the Maritime Exchange.


It's also in the midst of a dredging project to deepen the river's main shipping channel to 45 feet. The Maritime Exchange has no estimate yet on how that could impact shipping traffic.

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