It’s logical that after being shut in for months by the winter’s cold to get one’s house in order with a vigorous spring cleaning.
The same can be said for U.S. West Coast container terminals’ task ahead after suffering from a long winter of cargo backlogs resulting from the protracted negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association. Under increasing pressure from the White House and the shipping industry, the two parties agreed to a new contract on Feb. 20.
However, the West Coast ports’ problems haven’t ended with the signatures of the ILWU and PMA finally inked on the contract.
Top executives at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in early March said they think it will take about three months to clear out the container backlog that built up within their terminals during the final months of the ILWU-PMA contract negotiations.
During the last three months of the contract negotiations it was not uncommon to have upwards of two dozen ships hovering outside the two Southern California ports awaiting a turn to discharge their containers. The two port authorities are eager to speed up the processing of these ships at their terminals, a goal which may be increasingly challenged by the arrival of ever-larger containerships. Globally there are more than 285 vessels with capacities between 7,500 TEUs and 18,000 TEUs on order to be delivered by 2016, and some of these newbuilds will undoubtedly find their way to services calling the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Also in early March, a gray chassis pool in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach commenced operation. The hope is the pool will offer more maneuverability between the terminals for both ships and trucks.
As reported by Chris Dupin, American Shipper’s maritime and intermodal editor, Pasha opened a facility near the Port of Los Angeles’ container terminals where chassis can be maintained and repaired. The drayage company TTSI hopes to use the property for “peel offs,” or programs where draymen can remove large blocks of containers rapidly from terminals. The containers would be temporarily stored on chassis in an off-terminal lot where they can be relayed to other drivers.
Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said if the program is successful, the port will roll out other opportunities for truckers to expedite shipments and minimize the amount dwell time for containers at terminals.
Jon Slangerup, chief executive officer of the Port of Long Beach, said his port is also “trying to provide relief valves wherever we can,” including an off-dock container yard where empty containers can be stored, which is now being modified so that it can also be used to store wheeled empty containers that can be used for peel-offs.
The two ports have concentrated on infrastructure improvements, including investing $4.5 billion in terminal-connected rail lines and highways, as well as replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge.
In addition, the Federal Maritime Commission approved revisions to the discussion agreement between the two ports to include supply chain authorization. Slangerup said the two ports will begin those discussions in late March.
According to Seroka, however, about a third of the cargo that moves through the ports is discretionary and in late 2014 and the first months of this year “cargo has moved away” to East Coast ports.
A good spring cleaning of operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as noted above, should go a long way to providing shippers and their logistics services providers a feeling of comfort and being welcomed back in the nation’s two largest container ports.
This editorial was published in the April 2015 issue of American Shipper.