Friday, April 3, 2015

Oakland Makes Vessel Backlog Disappear

By Mark Edward Nero

A vessel backlog that has plagued containerized trade at the Port of Oakland since January has disappeared, the port said April 2.

As recently as March, up to 20 vessels a day were lined up waiting to dock. But there are currently no vessels in San Francisco Bay or outside the Golden Gate awaiting berths, making it the first time since early in the year that all ships calling at Oakland have berthed without delay. Port officials said it’s the strongest evidence yet that a West Coast cargo slowdown is waning.

“When a ship comes to Oakland, it goes straight to berth and we go straight to work loading and unloading,” port Maritime Director John Driscoll said. “No more delays: that’s the message we’re sending to our customers and the shipping lines that carry their cargo.”

Ports from Seattle to San Diego have coped with a backlog of ships and cargo since late 2014. That was the consequence of a nine-month impasse in negotiating a new waterfront labor contract. Oakland has been recovering from the cargo buildup since a tentative contract settlement was reached Feb. 20.

Port officials said most ships are in-and-out of Oakland within two days, which is a significant improvement from recent months when vessel calls could last four-to-five days. Cargo owners are receiving containerized imports shortly after the boxes are discharged from vessels, instead of waiting weeks for shipments, as had been the case.

Although the port has caught up with the cargo backlog, it has warned that temporary buildups could recur because several ships remain anchored at severely congested Southern California ports awaiting berths, and as that logjam breaks, the vessels could arrive off-schedule and in bunches at Oakland, their next stop.