The port of Baltimore moved up one spot in the national rankings in cargo handling last year on the strength of a 37 percent jump from 2009 in the value of shipments over its docks, according to the U.S. Census.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday that the port had climbed to 11th place from 12th in the value of the cargo it handles and advanced two places, to 13th from 15th, in tonnage.

The port grabbed the No. 1 spot among the nation's 360 ports in handling of three cargo categories: trucks, imported salt and imported iron ore. Previously, the port had held the No. 2 rankings in trucks and ore, and sixth place in salt.

According to the census, the value of the cargo moving through Baltimore's port reached $41.5 billion, a 37 percent gain, as commerce rebounded from recession-racked 2009.

The gain was stronger in tonnage, with the port posting a 47 percent increase to 33 million tons — a reflection of Baltimore's strong position in such heavy commodities as coal, forest products and ore.

In addition to its new No. 1 rankings, the port held onto its top positions in farm and construction machinery — known as roll-on/roll-off, or ro/ro, cargo — imported forest products such as paper, imported gypsum and imported sugar.

Baltimore moved up to No. 2 in auto and aluminum imports and cola exports, up from third in each in 2009.

Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, said the state did not drop in the rankings in any category of commodities. He said Baltimore ranked 14th in handling of containerized cargo.

Baltimore's traffic in containers is expected to pick up after next August, when a 50-foot-deep berth is scheduled to open at Seagirt Marine Terminal. That berth, now under construction by Ports America under a public-private partnership with the state, will enable larger container ships to call at the port.

The port agency said the gains at its publicly owned terminals have continued through the first six months of this year, though not at as torrid a pace as in 2010. The agency said general cargo is up 14 percent, ro/ro up 51 percent, autos 10 percent, containers 9 percent and paper 6 percent.

James J. White, the port's executive director, said an improved worldwide economic climate in 2010 contributed to the increased business. He also credited high productivity, good labor relations and the port's status as the closest to the industrial Midwest as factors in gaining market share.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com