It’s been a year like no other for everyone everywhere, and resiliency has been a word used perhaps more in 2020 than any other year. It’s a fitting word for U.S. ports, which saw huge numbers of canceled sailings when factories shut down in China and then record import surges when manufacturing restarted and supply chains were rebooted.
“As our industry navigates the ongoing economic and market impacts of COVID-19, which now includes record cargo volume, we must be resilient facing and overcoming the challenges associated with the shifting landscape,” said Sam Ruda, the port director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), in his final executive broadcast of 2020. “Just as we have done from the very start of this global health crisis, the port continues to closely collaborate, communicate and coordinate with our port partners to maintain the operational integrity of the gateway. As a port community, we have never been closer.”
Ruda said the port’s efforts during the cargo surge have included keeping terminals open on some holidays; adding operating hours on nights and weekends; infusing extra chassis into the network; working overtime to keep chassis units roadworthy; adding empty railcars into the intermodal network; and keeping front-line waterfront stakeholders healthy and safe.
“Over the past few months, we have seen record-breaking volumes at the Port of New York and New Jersey, and we expect that trend to continue into early 2021,” he said.
October total volume at the port was up 13.4% year-over-year to 755,437 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) from 666,381 TEUs in 2019. September volume was up 15.4% year-over-year to 720,969 TEUs from 624,961 last year.
“Intermodal rail volume through the port is also at record levels,” Ruda said. “In September and October, rail volume rose by double digits. Auto volume, which was dramatically impacted earlier in the pandemic, surged in September and October, leading to monthly gains for the first time in the calendar year 2020. These gains were the result of increased production as manufacturers returned to pre-pandemic levels and new model year vehicles flowed to national dealerships.”
October rail volume increased 13.8% year-over-year to 65,677 containers. The port moved 54,077 vehicles in October, a year-over-year increase of 17.1%.
There have been highs and lows for the port authority throughout 2020.
In early March, PANYNJ Executive Director Rick Cotton tested positive for COVID-19. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Cotton had been overseeing the arrival of international flights at New York-area airports prior to testing positive.
In late March, the port authority welcomed the arrival in New York Harbor of the USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed hospital ship deployed to support the fight against the coronavirus.
Between March and June, the port authority’s revenue miss totaled nearly $800 million, making for the single worst quarter on record.
In early August, Timothy M. Murray, a Sandy Hook Pilots Association captain, died from injuries sustained in a fall while boarding a vessel. Sandy Hook provides pilotage services to vessels entering or departing the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Hudson and East rivers, Atlantic City, Jamaica Bay, and Long Island Sound.
In mid-September, the port welcomed the CMA CGM Brazil, with a capacity of 15,072 TEUs, the largest vessel to call a U.S. East Coast port.
“As we finish 2020 and look to 2021, there is little doubt that there are stresses on the supply chain as we collectively manage record cargo volumes,” Ruda said. “At the Port of New York and New Jersey, we are no stranger to challenges. We meet them head-on. It is for this reason I can report to you that there is a steadfast commitment to keeping the port operating and ensuring fluidity of operations.”