The Alliance has launched a direct Trans-Pacific Asia service called the East Coast Loop 6, or EC6, via Panama that calls on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

In its service network announcement for 2021, member carriers of THE Alliance, which include Ocean Network Express (ONE), Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) and Yang Ming Line, say they are launching “the first service within The Alliance network to directly and seamlessly connect the U.S. Gulf with important ports in Asia,” according to a news release from Port Houston.

The EC6 service will call on the ports of Kaohsiung in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Yantian and Ningbo in China, Shanghai, Pusan in Korea, Panama City and Houston on a weekly basis before making stops in New Orleans and in Mobile, Alabama, and returning to Panama and onward to Kaohsiung.

“The new EC6 service will provide a new premium solution to our customers in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and the southern United States,” says Uffe Ostergaard, president of Hapag-Lloyd, North America.

The new service launched by The Alliance is part of an adjustment of its overall network. The Alliance says it has made changes to offer customers more capacity in trade lanes with the greatest demand. It also has evaluated and reconfigured its network to provide better frequency, more competitive transit times and comprehensive port coverage.

“With the introduction of the EC6, HMM is delighted to add direct coverage between Asia and Port Houston to our expanding global service portfolio,” says Jay Y. Lee, chairman and CEO, HMM (America) Inc. “The EC6 will allow us to better serve our current customers who have voiced their desire for options between the U.S. Gulf and Asia as well as open up a growing market for us.”

“It offers our regional exporters and importers new options,” Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther says of EC6. “We look forward to providing them great efficiencies through our modern facilities.”

Loaded imports at Port Houston grew 5 percent in 2019, according to the port, driven by a broad spectrum of companies from sectors including retail, alternative energy, food and beverage and industrial materials.

Among the nation’s top container ports, Port Houston was 2019’s fastest-growing, according to data from maritime sector data vendor IHS Markit PIERS. Port Houston nearly hit the 3 million mark for 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2019.

Port NOLA President and CEO Brandy D. Christian says of EC6, “This new direct-Asia service highlights the industry’s continued investment in the New Orleans market. We look forward to continuing to work with long-standing partner Hapag-Lloyd as well as newer to Port NOLA carriers, ONE, HMM and Yang Ming to make this service a success for our shipper and carrier partners.”

The additional capacity will support Port NOLA’s growing export business for commodities such as resin, poultry, forestry and agricultural products. While known for its robust export growth, the Port NOLA saw 13 percent loaded import TEU growth in 2019.

Port NOLA says it is currently in the process of a $100 million expansion project at the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal that will add four new 100-foot-gauge container gantry cranes in the fourth quarter of 2021. This expansion will increase capacity to 1 million TEUs and allows the port to work larger ships more efficiently. Port NOLA also launched the due diligence process for a potential $1.5 billion multimodal container terminal with a 2 million TEU capacity to serve the largest container vessels calling in the Gulf of Mexico.