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FedEx Logistics charters vessels to move China exports, rail containers

California’s Port of Hueneme will receive private ships

A truck delivers a 53-foot FedEx container to be loaded on a vessel at Port Humen, China. (Photo: FedEx Logistics)

The freight logistics arm of FedEx has chartered three small vessels to deliver specialized intermodal containers and goods made in China to a small port in California to bypass congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the company announced late Thursday.

The vessels will use the Port of Hueneme, about 60 miles north of the LA-Long Beach complex, to discharge their loads. 

FedEx Logistics is renting dedicated vessels so it can transport 53-foot containers manufactured in China that will be injected into the FedEx Freight intermodal network in Southern California, spokesperson Christina Meek said in an email message. The freight forwarding company is taking advantage of the project to load the containers with electronics, automotive components, garments and department store merchandise for small, medium and large customers.

The first multipurpose vessel, with capacity for 300 53-foot containers, departed Port Humen in China on Jan. 4 and is scheduled to arrive at the Port of Hueneme by the end of the month, according to the announcement. The FedEx vessels will use the terminal at Naval Base Ventura County, under a preexisting arrangement between the U.S. Navy and the Port of Hueneme allowing commercial operations at the site when not busy with Navy activity.

FedEx declined to identify the transportation provider. Maritime industry observers have identified Genco Shipping as the vessel operator.

Freight forwarders routinely charter entire aircraft from cargo airlines when they need direct control of capacity, but last year many began renting small multipurpose vessels for the first time to help their customers move products because the main container lines were overbooked and didn’t have enough equipment, resulting in lengthy delays just to get cargo on a vessel. Large retailers such as Costco, Home Depot, Walmart and IKEA also secured their own vessels to get around the shopping delays.

Most of those transactions happened quietly and came to light over time as word spread within the industry of how companies were managing the shipping crunch. FedEx Logistics is participating on the White House’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, which is trying to find innovative ways to address the backlogs at U.S. ports related to record import levels, and has an incentive to show it is contributing to the solution.

Most international shipping involves the use of 40-foot containers that fit in cells and can be stacked on container vessels. The standard 20-foot unit, used to carry heavier loads, is less common. The 53-foot containers are made to rail standards for use in double-stack trains to ship goods within North America. They are not used in international shipping. Rather than ship them empty on regular commercial vessels, FedEx Logistics arranged to stuff them with goods to help some customers get around backlogs.

FedEx Freight is the heavy trucking division of FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) and largest less-than-truckload carrier in North America by revenue. It uses intermodal rail service to move large volumes of cargo to its primary hubs. FedEx Trade Networks, the company’s freight forwarding unit, provides multi-modal service to customers with partial and full-containerloads moved inland with FedEx Freight or other carriers.

Hueneme is best known for handling roll-on/roll-off cargo, such as automobiles, and containerized produce from South and Central America. Its container volume is about 1% of the 17.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units handled by the San Pedro Bay ports in 2020, but last year experienced a spike in container business as shippers routed more containers to the facility to avoid the lengthy vessel backups to the south.

“FedEx Logistics is thrilled to collaborate with everyone at Port of Hueneme as we put our collective strength and expertise together to create a value-added solution for our customers, while helping to alleviate pressure at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles,” Udo Lange, president and CEO of  FedEx Logistics, said in the news release.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch. 

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]