Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Oakland: Port Gaining on Cargo Backlog

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Oakland says that efforts to eliminate a cargo backlog are meeting with success, with signs of such including a declining vessel backup; decongested terminals; improved transaction times; and better terminal productivity.

The operational update is Oakland’s first since the tentative approval of a new West Coast waterfront labor contract on Feb. 20. The cargo backup, which should clear within two months, according to the port, is a byproduct of nine months of labor negotiations between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators.

According to the Port of Oakland’s status report:
As of March 6, five ships were anchored in San Francisco Bay or navigating outside the Golden Gate Bridge awaiting berths at the port, down from a high of 20 vessels in mid-February. The vessel logjam is expected to disappear within 10 days.

Also, marine terminals that were overflowing with import cargo awaiting pick-up have cleared out the backlog. The port says its two largest terminals are operating at 50-to-60 percent of container yard capacity and have room to handle more volume.

The port also says that marine terminals have cleared out the backlog of imports that had been stranded in container yards, and that as they’re discharged from ships, imports are available for immediate pick-up, which is in stark contrast to previous months when cargo owners waited weeks to collect loaded containers.

However, there is 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 is expected to clear up within weeks as the vessel backlog disappears.

Some labor shortages in vessel operations are being reported at Oakland and other West Coast ports, which Oakland attributes 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 three to five ships.

The gantry cranes that load and unload ships are moving 25-to-30 containers per hour, near Oakland’s historic average of 30-to-35 moves. Vessels that are normally worked in one day still require several days for loading and unloading, according to Oakland, but the port says the turnaround time has dropped significantly in the past two weeks.

“There’s still a great deal of work to do,” Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll said. “But we’re seeing good collaboration between labor, terminal operators and harbor truckers.”