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Friday, September 10, 2010

Exports and Imports Through California Climb in July, Rest of the Year in Question

Exporters throughout California remained one of the state's bright economic spots during July as the value of overseas export shipments rose by 21.4 percent over the same month last year.

The $11.86 billion in goods exported during July surpassed the $9.77 billion the state's exporters sent overseas in July 2009, according to an analysis by Beacon Economics of international trade data released Thursday by the U.S. Commerce Department.

According to Jock O'Connell, Beacon Economics' International Trade Adviser, July marked the ninth consecutive month of year-over-year increases in California's export trade.

"California's economy would obviously be in even worse shape were it not for strong foreign demand for goods produced by our manufacturers and farmers," O'Connell said.

The state's July export trade in manufactured products was up 20.1 percent over July 2009, while shipments of agricultural goods and other non-manufactured products increased by 10.6 percent. In addition, re-exports of items previously imported into the state rose by 32.1 percent.

Nationwide, California accounted for 11.4 percent of all U.S. merchandise exports in July.

Despite the recent uptick in activity, O'Connell pointed out that California's export totals are still below pre-recession levels.

In inflation-adjusted terms, California’s export trade in July 2008 was $12.65 billion, some 6.7% higher than the value of exports this July.

O'Connell also predicted that the recent growth in California exports would likely decline through the end of the year.

"Madam Olga’s crystal ball may be full of good cheer, but almost no one else is forecasting brisk growth in world trade this fall,” O’Connell warned. “Instead, governments have been joining businesses and consumers on the economic sidelines. As spending falters and demand shrinks, so too will trade."

O'Connell added, "There's more than ample reason to be cautiously pessimistic about the next few months."

Imports through the state were also up in July, with the U.S. Commerce Department numbers reporting that California's merchandise import trade totaled $28.5 billion in July, an increase of 23.8 percent over the year-ago period.

According to Beacon, California accounted for 17.4 percent of all U.S. merchandise imports in July.

Vancouver Port Eyed as Possible Entry Point for Nuke During Winter Olympics

Six months after the close of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, it is now being learned that the Canadian government increased radiation monitoring at the Port of Vancouver over fears that terrorists might try to sneak in a nuclear device to detonate during the Games.

The internal documents, obtained by The Vancouver Sun, also reveal that Canadian government quietly imposed a state of "heightened vigilance" at the country's airports just prior to the start of the Games on Feb. 12, mainly in response to a failed airline bombing in the United States on Christmas Day, 2009.

According to The Sun, a high-level government memo was disseminated which said, in part, "Questions have ... been raised regarding the possibility that a terrorist group could exploit the movement of ... containers through the port of Vancouver during the Olympic and Paralympic Games."

The memo listed steps that were taken to minimize the chance of a nuclear device slipping in through the port, including: Increase in-depth risk assessments of all containers prior to their shipment in to Canada; the installation of container-scanning radiation detection portals at the port; the application of vehicle-mounted radiation detectors throughout the port; and, the distribution of hand-held radiation detectors.

The Sun points out that many of the radiation detection devices were in place long before the start of the Games.

However, a separate document obtained by The Sun summarizing the Canadian Border Services Agency's efforts to secure the port during the Games included increasing chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive detection capabilities at all Canadian points of entry.

"The Enforcement Branch has developed a plan that will support port of entry enforcement activities by providing increased training, maintenance and support for a variety of contraband and CBRNE detection tools during the Games," it states, according to The Sun. The document also noted that the various detection tools could by redeployed where needed "should threat levels increase."

In response to a inquiry from The Sun, CBSA spokeswoman Shakila Manzoor said the agency had "no information of a threat or actual attempt to smuggle bomb/radiological material leading up to or during the 2010 Games." She told the newspaper that the increased detection equipment was in response to "worst case scenarios."

Portland Port's Top Exec Given Raise

The governing board for the Oregon state Port of Portland on Wednesday approved a 7 percent raise for port Executive Director Bill Wyatt, raising his salary to $321,000 a year.

Following a glowing recommendation offered by commissioners, the four-member port board was also set to approve a $29,210 bonus, which Wyatt promptly refused.

Last year, in the face of port-wide staff reductions and furloughs, Wyatt took a 10 percent cut in his salary. However, Wednesday's 7 percent increase was calculated on Wyatt's salary before last year's cut.

By comparison, the executive directors of the nation's two busiest port, Los Angeles and Long Beach, each make around $300,000 a year.

Prior to approving the raise, the four members of the Portland port commission each praised Wyatt for his leadership during the tough economic times of 2009. They pointed to moves he had taken that saved more than three dozen port jobs and his leadership during the construction of the port's new $241 million headquarters complex located at Portland International Airport.

While Portland struggled through 2009 like most ports on the West Coast, the port authority has seen a recent positive turn around in air traffic through Portland International as well as increases in Columbia River barge traffic.

LA Mayor Appoints Former Staffer as New Port Commissioner

Keeping with a long tradition of Los Angeles City Hall appointing political confederates to the governing board for the Port of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday named his former chief of staff, Robin Kramer, to the port commission.

The 57-year-old Kramer, who served as Villaraigosa's chief of staff from 2005 to 2009, also served as former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's chief of staff from 1994 to 1997.

Kramer will fill a seat left vacant by the departure earlier this year of Commission Vice-President Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza.

The five members of the port commission, who can serve up to two six-year terms, set policy for and oversee the administration of the port.

The current president of the commission, Cindy Miscikowski, served as a Los Angeles City Councilmember before being appointed to the commission. Former commission president S. David Freeman was also a long-time ally of the Villaraigosa administration.

The Los Angeles Port Commission is often given greater direction by Los Angeles City Hall than the governing board at the neighboring Port of Long Beach, which is overseen by a semi-autonomous city department and typically kept at arms length by Long Beach City Hall.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chief Engineer of Oil-Dumping Vessel Sentenced

The chief engineer of a cargo vessel that ordered the illegal dumping of oil-contaminated waste into the ocean was sentenced Friday to three years probation by a US District Court judge.

Dimitrios Dimitrakis, chief engineer of the 26,000-ton bulker M/V New Fortune, was also assessed $5,100 in fines by the court.

The case stems from a February boarding of the Marshall Islands-flagged New Fortune by the United States Coast Guard for a routine inspection as the vessel arrived in the Bay Area for a call at the Port of Oakland.

Coast Guard inspectors found the vessel had been outfitted with a bypass tube that allowed ship personnel to circumvent the vessel's waste storage and treatment equipment and dump oil-contaminated waste material directly in the ocean. Further inspection revealed that the bypass piping, which is illegal under US and international law, had recently been used.

Inspectors also found false entries in the vessel's Oil Record Book, where all transfers or overboard discharges of sludge, oil-contaminated waste, and bilge water are supposed to be logged.

The operator of the New Fortune, Greek-based Transmar Shipping Co., was ordered by a US District Court judge last month to pay a $850,000 in fines related to the case. The vessel's second engineer, who pleaded guilty to the charges related to the false Oil Record Book entries, was also sentenced to two years probation and fined $700.

Feds Find New Ag Pest in SoCal Ports Shipment

Federal government inspectors have found a species of tiny agricultural pest at the Southern California ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that has not been seen before in the United States.

The species of leafhopper, found by inspectors last month in a shipment of pineapples from Costa Rica, has the potential to damage grapes, potatoes, soybeans and corn.

Leafhoppers feed on plant sap by piercing plants with their mouthparts. Widely known as an agricultural pest, the leafhoppers can introduce plant pathogens such as viruses and bacteria through their feeding. While some of the 20,000 species of leafhoppers feed off numerous plants, some are very plant specific, including the beet leafhopper, the potato leafhopper and the white apple leafhopper. Federal officials did not identify the newly discovered species of leafhopper.

The leafhopper discovery was the second time in the past two months that federal inspectors have found a previously unseen-in-the-US agriculture pest at the Southern California ports. In June, inspectors found a previously unseen type of aphid.

Last year, federal and California state inspectors found the European grape moth in Bay Area traps. The federal government believes that moth arrived through the Bay Area ports and that the pest could threaten the state's $18 billion a year wine making industry. In June, the federal government added an addition $1.75 million to the $3 million already allocated to combat the spread of the moth.

Schneider to Sell US, Chinese Forwarding and Brokerage Services to French Firm

Global supply chain firm Schneider Logistics has agreed to sell its freight forwarding and customs house brokerage business in the United States and China to French transportation and logistics firm Norbert Dentressangle.

Schneider officials said the deal, expected to close Oct. 1, will not affect Schneider's other supply chain services, including transloading, warehousing, distribution, port dray services, inland logistics management, supply chain management, brokerage or domestic China transportation services.

A statement by Schneider also said that there will be no job losses through the sale and all Schneider employees impacted by the sale are expected to become employees of Norbert Dentressangle.

The sale affects seven Schneider locations in the US (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, New York and Chicago) and two locations in China (Tianjin and Shanghai).

Financial details of the sale were not released.

The 21-year-old Norbert Dentressangle is a $3.5 billion a year firm with 27,000 employees throughout 355 locations in 17 countries.

The firm, based in Lyon, France, has nearly 7,000 tractors, just over 6,500 trailers and 5.3 million square feet of warehouse space.

Schneider CEO and President Chris Lofgren said his firm's freight forwarding and customs house brokerage business no longer fit with Schneider's strategic focus on the core business of truckload, logistics and intermodal services.

Long Beach Port Inaugurates New China Service

The Port of Long Beach has welcomed the first call of a new transpac container service by Chinese government-owned carrier Hainan PO Shipping.

The 20-month-old carrier's 2,825-TEU Suzhou Dragon called at Long Beach's Pier J container terminal last week to inaugurate the new service. The carrier has already established several inter-China services as well as routes from China to Australia and Vietnam.

The new Long Beach service is part of Hainan P O Shipping's CAE Express service.

“The ‘CAE Express’ connecting central and north China to Long Beach and select intermodal gateways is the next step in the development of PO Shipping’s commitment to meeting the growing needs of the market and our customer base,” said President of PO Shipping USA K.K. Chan.

The start of the new service underscores the continued resurgence of the international shipping industry and the ongoing demand for berths at the Port of Long Beach, the second-busiest container seaport in the United States, said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Richard D. Steinke.

The weekly CAE Express service utilizes five vessels – including the Suzhou Dragon – ranging in capacity from 2,700 TEUs to 3,500 TEUs. The new service is expected to add 150,000 TEUs a year to Long Beach's annual volume tally.

Tacoma Port Faces EPA Order to Restore Damaged Wetlands

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Port of Tacoma to restore wetlands destroyed by un-permitted port work at two locations in the Commencement Bay area.

The EPA announced last week that an investigation by the agency, conducted with the Army Corps of Engineers, uncovered the destroyed wetlands.

The area in question is located on the Hylebos Peninsula at the former Hylebos Marsh Wildlife Restoration Project site. In 2008, the port and a port contractor cleared and graded over four acres of wetlands at Hylebos Marsh in an attempt to eradicate an invasive snail infestation at the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State Department of Agriculture.

However, the USDA order to deal with the snail only provided for clearing and grading in non-wetland areas. The USDA also informed the port that any "mechanized land clearing" in the wetland areas would require a Clean Water Act permit. According to the EPA's Region 10 office, the port never obtained the proper Clean Water Act permit – a violation of federal law.

Prior to the damage caused by the port, the Hylebos Marsh contained mature forested wetlands.

The investigation also uncovered a prior violation, when the port filled in just over an acre of destroyed wetlands near the former Kaiser Aluminum Smelter site in 2006. According to the EPA's Region 10 office, "the port and its contractors used heavy equipment to dump soil, concrete, asphalt and other materials into the wetlands."

Both of the port-damaged wetland areas drain directly into Commencement Bay, a major South Puget Sound waterway and also an environmental priority area for the EPA.

The EPA has ordered that the port restore the two damaged wetland areas to their original condition. If the port fails to comply, it could face penalties of up to $37,500 per day.

Tacoma port officials have not publicly addressed the EPA order.

Fidley Watch - Bugs

Last month a NOAA scientist, Dr. Bill Lehr, told a group of Congressional staff investigators on a conference call that a controversial National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report claiming that nearly three-quarters of the oil from the Gulf oil spill has already been addressed was released by White House officials and not scientists at NOAA. Although White House officials at an early August press briefing had said that the report had been thoroughly peer reviewed, Dr. Lehr told congressional investigators that the data backing up the assertions made in the report is still unavailable and that peer review of the report is still not complete.

“This is yet another in a long line of examples where the White House’s pre-occupation with the public relations of the oil spill has superseded the realities on the ground,” says Rep. Darrel Issa (R, CA), ranking member of the House Committee on oversight and Government Reform. Issa says there is a perception that the Obama White House is more concerned about appearing competent than actually making sure the massive oil spill in the Gulf gets cleaned-up as quickly as possible.

It is understandable that the White House would like the Gulf spill to go away, but if rhetoric isn’t the answer, maybe bugs are the answer.

Also last month, but too late for the White House to claim credit, scientists discovered a new type of oil-eating microbe that is suddenly thriving in the Gulf of Mexico.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California reported that the microbe works without significantly depleting oxygen in the water. The findings suggest a great potential for bacteria to help dispose of oil plumes in the deep-sea, according to a statement released by researcher Terry Hazen.

“Our findings show that the influx of oil profoundly altered the microbial community by significantly stimulating deep-sea” cold temperature bacteria that are closely related to known petroleum-degrading microbes, Hazen reports.

Hazen suggested that the bacteria might have adapted over time due to periodic leaks and natural seeps of oil in the Gulf.

The research was supported in part by the University of Oklahoma Research Foundation and the US Department of Energy, but mostly by an existing grant with the Energy Biosciences Institute, a partnership led by the University of California Berkeley and the University of Illinois that is funded by a $500 million, 10-year grant from BP.

This discovery may not let BP off the hook for the spill, but it’s nice to see industry get credit where it’s due.