By Mark Edward Nero
Ports America, the largest stevedore and terminal operating company in the United States, says it is closing its Port of Oakland terminal in March.
Ports America said Jan. 19 that it intends to terminate its 50-year lease at Oakland’s Outer Harbor terminal for “business reasons,” according to the port. Although Ports America has said it would continue with business as usual for 30 days, vessel and cargo-handling operations are expected to cease after that, then the terminal itself will close down within 60 days.
Outer Harbor Terminal personnel “will be coordinating closely with equipment suppliers and other vendors as it continues to provide vessel services for 30 days and then take an additional 30 days to transition out of the terminal,” Ports America said in a prepared statement.
Port of Oakland officials have promised to keep cargo moving efficiently after Ports America leaves and that vessels would be rerouted to adjacent terminals after the shutdown occurs.
“We’re disappointed that Ports America is leaving,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll said, “but we're in advanced discussions with our maritime partners here to prevent disruption to the Oakland business.”
Oakland said it expects Ports America to meet all of its lease obligations until the two sides agree on an orderly transition of the property. The port added that it has engaged in prolonged discussions with Ports America about the operator's future in Oakland, but that the decision to terminate the lease was made unilaterally by Ports America.
The port also tried to put a positive spin on the news, stating that the departure of Ports America provides two significant opportunities: ships and cargo can be redirected to Oakland’s other marine terminals which have excess capacity; and the port can find what it calls “new, better uses,” for Ports America Outer Harbor Terminal, which is the second largest terminal at Oakland.
Options for the land could include uses unrelated to containerized cargo operations, the port said. That would be new for Oakland, which has been home exclusively to container ships since the 1960s.
Outer Harbor is one of five marine terminals leased to private operators by the Port of Oakland. More than 2,000 ships, most from Asia, berth at the terminals each year. The terminals load and unload containerized cargo transported by the vessels. More than two million containers move annually through the port.