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News

U.S. West Coast ports try to stay above the labor/managment fray

2014-12-10 16:54:03

U.S. West Coast ports try to stay above the labor/managment fray

Analysts also suggest that West Coast port efficiency has been strong up until recently.

By Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
November 07, 2014

While shippers are understandably shaken by the impasse in U.S. West Coast dockside labor talks, port authorities are resolute in taking a neutral position on the issue.

“Cargo movement has definitely been slowing down,” said Port of Tacoma spokesman, Tara Mattina. “The truckers and the beneficial cargo owners are hurting the most.”

At the Port of Los Angeles, spokesman Phillip Sanfield said that congestions continues to be a concern, but that a number of a factors apart from stalled contract talks can also be blamed.

“We do not wish to get involved in a fight between terminal operators and longshoremen,” he said. “We have to focus on the big picture.”

Analysts also suggest that West Coast port efficiency has been strong up until recently.Zepol, a global trade and intelligence provider based in Minneapolis, told LM that year-to-date throughput at all major ocean gateways has been a consistent metric.

Indeed, it appears to be getting even better for some Pacific Rim players.

The Port of Oakland, for example, is positioned to increase its cargo volume in California’s turbulent container shipping market. But there’s more to do to ensure that the nation’s fifth-busiest seaport can handle the load.

That was the message from major U.S. importers and exporters this week at a two-day customer forum. Shippers from Safeway to Tesla Motors urged the Port to prepare by optimizing cargo movement and minimizing bottlenecks.

“The Port of Oakland is in a very strong position to handle additional cargo, but the port will need to increase hours of operation with additional gates,” said Joel McClure, Director of International Logistics Import/Export Compliance at Restoration Hardware.

Ten leading brands in retailing, manufacturing and freight forwarding took part in the forum designed to gauge customer attitudes and solicit feedback on ways to make the Port more efficient. They applauded efforts to improve cargo throughput at Oakland marine terminals, but asked terminal operators for more help to ensure smoother movement of imports out of the Port to warehouses or store loading docks.

The discourse is important as the Port of Oakland gears up for a likely increase in containerized cargo. The port said its September cargo handling volume was the highest in more than a year. The numbers will stay high as shippers divert cargo north to avoid severely congested Southern California ports. Oakland terminal operators said they’re handling hundreds of additional containers weekly originally intended for Los Angeles or Long Beach.

One port executive said an Asian-based container shipping line will divert one of its vessels next week with Oakland as a first port of call replacing Los Angeles. That means the vessel will make Oakland its first West Coast stop for discharge of imports from Asia.

Shippers expressed their approval of first-call service in Oakland. It would assure faster delivery of cargo intended for Northern California as well as cargo moving to inland destinations.

But they also asked for help with bottlenecks that include:
• A need for quicker trucker turn-times in and out of the marine terminals;
• Limited hours of operation at marine terminals.

The Port said it is advancing on both fronts. Terminal operators indicated that trucker waiting time has improved in the last half of 2014. Some facilities have introduced nighttime truck gates and extended hours of operation. At least two have adopted express lanes that get imports out the door in as little as 15 minutes.

“We’re making progress,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle. “We want to help you and encourage more cargo through the port.”

Port officials said Oakland does not have the level of congestion currently delaying cargo in Southern California. They said there is available capacity bolstered by the addition of new cargo handling equipment. There’s also a satisfactory supply of chassis, the trailers truckers use to haul containers.

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