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Seattle port operator tackles congestion with new container storage fee

SSA Marine follows lead of LA/Long Beach in charging for late pickups

SSA Marine has notified importers at its Seattle port facilities that it will introduce an additional storage charge on Wednesday for containers lingering longer than five days in an effort to clear space so stevedores can better service vessels and reduce cargo delays.

The cargo-handling company said a temporary levy of $50-per-day fee will be placed on containers dwelling longer than five days after they are made available for pickup at terminals 5, 18 and 30 in the Port of Seattle. The late pickup fee will escalate to $75 per day after five days of excess dwell time, $100 after 10 days and $150 per day after 15 days.

Seattle-based SSA Marine said the Dec. 1 surcharge, which comes on top of existing demurrage for excess storage beyond the allowable free time, is necessary to recover increased operating and storage costs due to overcrowding.  

It’s the latest attempt by West Coast port operators to pressure faster container pickups by cargo owners in the face of record import volumes, equipment shortages and infrastructure limitations that have severely slowed ocean shipping networks and disrupted supply chains.

“As with other ports on the West Coast who either have already implemented additional storage charges or will soon be doing so, the failure of importers picking up their containers in a timely manner has created severe congestion issues that have prevented terminal operators from properly servicing vessels destined for their terminals. We sincerely hope the additional storage charge will encourage cargo owners to pick up their containers, which will allow the terminals in Seattle to again properly service vessels destined to our port, and once that has been accomplished, the temporary storage charges will cease,” SSA Marine said in the notice posted on the Terminal 18 website.

The Southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s largest container shipping gateway, late last month threatened to penalize ocean carriers $100 per import container moving by truck that stayed on dock for nine or more days and for boxes dwelling for six or more days that move by rail, with the charge rising in $100 increments per day until departure. Officials have twice postponed assessing any charges until this coming Monday, citing progress whittling down container piles as shippers collect more cargo to avoid getting the final bill. 

Two terminal operators at the Port of Tacoma this month began assessing surcharges of more than $300 for container overstays of 15 days or more. Tacoma and Seattle, located on Puget Sound, are partners in the Northwest Seaport Alliance.  

There were seven container vessels at anchor Friday morning waiting for berth space at the two Pacific Northwest ports, according to the Marine Exchange of Puget Sound. Under normal conditions, vessels go straight to a parking spot in the ports.

Berthing delays and dwell times at terminals are contributing to a 60% increase in transit times for ocean imports from China. The average transit time for an ocean shipment to travel by sea and exit a terminal in Los Angeles/Long Beach on its way to an importer’s warehouse is 45 days this month compared to 28 days in May, according to digital freight forwarder Shifl. Port-to-port transit times are averaging 32 days, twice as long as normal. Officials say the more long-dwelling containers have been removed from the San Pedro Bay ports in recent weeks, but up to 15% of containers nationwide have been stranded for 10 to 47 days with the majority of that in West Coast ports, Shifl said.

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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 from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. 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 ekulisch@freightwaves.com