American Journal of Transportation
Efforts to eliminate a cargo backlog at the Port of Oakland are meeting with success. The Port said today gains in container movement are visible from ship to shore. The signs include:
A declining vessel backup;
Improved transaction times;
Better terminal productivity.
The operational update is Oakland’s first since tentative approval of a new West Coast waterfront labor contract Feb. 20. The Port said the cargo backup resulting from nine months of bargaining disputes should clear within two months.
“This isn’t victory – there’s still a great deal of work to do,” said Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll. “But we’re seeing good collaboration between labor, terminal operators and harbor truckers and our customers will soon benefit from faster, smoother cargo flow.”
Labor-management disputes created a logjam at all major West Coast ports over the last three months. The result was a coast-wide delay in releasing import containers to customers. At Oakland – a major U.S. export gateway – there was also a lag in placing loaded boxes on ships.
Port officials said marine terminals have cleared out the import buildup in their container yards. Delays are now mostly limited to containers still stowed on ships awaiting berths. The Port cautioned that temporary yard delays may recur as workers accelerate operations to eliminate the vessel backup.
The Port said terminals are working nights and weekends to improve cargo flow.
Here’s the full status report for the Port of Oakland:
Vessel Backlog: Five ships are anchored in San Francisco Bay or navigating outside the Golden Gate awaiting berths at the Port. That’s down from a high of 20 vessels in mid-February. The vessel logjam is expected to disappear within 10 days. Vessels continue to arrive late after lengthy delays at Southern California ports. That could continue for a month or more as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach struggle with severe congestion. Shipping lines that were truncating voyages in Los Angeles to get back on schedule are now resuming Oakland calls.
Cargo Buildup: Marine terminals that were overflowing with import cargo awaiting pick-up have cleared out the backlog. The Port of Oakland’s two largest terminals are operating at 50-to-60 percent of container yard capacity. That means they have room to handle more volume.
Cargo Volume: Volume declined 32 percent in January at the Port of Oakland. Other major West Coast ports reported similar decreases. Operating disruptions arising from the nine-month contract dispute were blamed. February volume statistics will be down again when they’re reported in mid-March. That’s the lingering effect of the contract impasse.
Imports: Marine terminals have cleared out the backlog of imports that had been stranded in container yards. As they’re discharged from ships, imports are available for immediate pick-up. That’s in stark contrast to previous months when cargo owners waited weeks to collect loaded containers. There’s still a delay in discharging imports that are stowed on ships at anchor. Those containers can be held up several days while vessels await berths. The condition should clear up within weeks as the vessel backlog disappears. Temporary cargo backlogs may re-emerge inside terminals in the rush to eliminate the vessel logjam.
Exports: Marine terminals are again opening their gates to exports destined for overseas markets – primarily in Asia. Export loading had diminished as Asia-bound vessels bypassed Oakland to recapture time lost at Southern California ports. Now that the ships are returning to Oakland, export capacity is increasing.
Labor: Requests for longshore labor to work in terminal yards are being filled. Some labor shortages in vessel operations are being reported at Oakland and other West Coast ports. That’s due to extraordinary demand created by the vessel backup. On average, 10 ships a day are being loaded and unloaded in Oakland. Typically that number would be 3-to-5 ships.
Productivity: Massive gantry cranes that load and unload ships are moving 25-to-30 containers per hour. That’s near the Port’s historic average of 30-to-35 moves – among the best on the West Coast. Vessels that are normally worked in one day still require several days for loading and unloading. But the turnaround time has dropped significantly in the past two weeks.
Equipment: The supply of chassis—the truck trailers that containers ride on over the road – is growing. That’s because once-overcrowded marine terminals again have room to accept empty containers. Empty returns had been mostly blocked during the cargo buildup. That kept the chassis they were paired with out of circulation.
Truck Transactions: There’s more work for harbor truckers. They’re picking up more imports as the vessel backlog is cleared out and containers are released. They’re delivering more exports and empty containers now that there’s room in container yards. Wait times for drivers at gates and inside terminals have improved in the past two weeks. They could spike, however, as terminals clear out cargo still backlogged on ships.
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