Two marine terminals at the Port of Tacoma in Washington are following the lead of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports by implementing steep fees on long-resting containers to reduce a large overflow that is gumming up operations and slowing the delivery of cargo.
Husky Terminal & Stevedoring on Monday began assessing a $315 charge for containers that have dwelled on the docks for more than 15 days to improve velocity, according to a customer notice. The fee is due before cargo will be released.
And Tacoma’s Washington United Terminal has notified customers that a long-term dwell fee of $310 will be assessed beginning Nov. 15 on all import units that have exceeded 15 calendar days on the terminal.
The measures differ in notable ways from those that went into effect in Southern California this week: They are being established by private terminal operators, not the port authorities; they are one-time fees that don’t escalate over time; and they are assessed against importers, not ocean carriers.
Tacoma and Seattle are experiencing congestion problems this year even though cargo volumes are lower than before the pandemic, underscoring the interconnectedness of the intermodal freight system on the West Coast and how some cargo is being routed away from the overcrowded California gateway. The twin ports, partners in the Northwest Seaport Alliance, handled 360,517 twenty-foot equivalent units in September, 5% less than in 2019. For the first nine months of the year, the ports handled 106,261 fewer TEUs than two years ago.
There are currently 15 vessels at anchor in Puget Sound, plus three offshore, waiting for a berth. Eight of the ships are container vessels, according to the Marine Exchange of Puget Sound.
Importers are challenged to retrieve containers by a shortage of empty containers and chassis in the region, warehouses that are at full capacity, and rail slowdowns, said a spokesperson for the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
In mid-July, the Union Pacific railroad suspended eastbound intermodal service for a week to its Global IV terminal near Chicago to ease the container logjam there that was preventing truck transfers. One of the cascading effects was containers piling up in Seattle/Tacoma for several weeks, which created problems for motor carriers getting in and out of the ports.
Seattle and Tacoma port authorities aren’t planning to implement any emergency late-pickup fees because they don’t hold direct contracts with carriers, the spokesperson said.
“The NWSA’s approach has been to lean into conversations with our supply chain partners and collectively, through our Gateway Performance Task Force, try to find ways to address the congestion challenges,” such as adding near-dock facilities, she said.
Instead, the terminal operators decided to take action themselves.
“Over the past several months local import dwell on the terminal has grown exponentially despite our numbers remaining similar to our 2020 volumes,” the Husky notice said.
The terminal has added two rubber-tired gantry cranes to increase capacity for lifting containers onto trucks for local delivery and opened gates to trucks for Saturday pickups every week since August to help clear shipping boxes faster.
“Despite our best efforts, the overall number of high dwelling units continues to increase along with overall duration of stay. Regrettably the deterioration in import velocity has directly impacted yard fluidity, forcing the terminal to perform multiple rehandles of the same units over an extended period,” the company explained.
Husky actually was ahead of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — which were in the national spotlight last week for implementing an excess dwell fee on lingering containers — by first notifying customers on Oct. 8 about the new surcharge.
Husky says the charge is to cover the rehandling necessary to reposition containers from the back piles to the front for delivery.
Cargo owners typically have four days of free storage at the Pacific Northwest ports, with late fees kicking in at about $230 per day after that, depending on the vessel operator. The rehandling fee is in addition to that.
Los Angeles and Long Beach are imposing fees on every loaded import container to incentivize shippers to remove long-dwelling containers. The fee starts at $100 and increases in $100 increments for each following day for containers scheduled to move by truck that sit on the docks for nine days or more. The same schedule applies to containers scheduled to move out by rail that stay longer than six days. The new fees will be billed to ocean carriers, but carriers have signaled that they will pass on the charge to customers. Assessments will not begin until Nov. 15.
Washington United Terminal said stranded containers have continued to pile up, forcing the terminal to spend time rehandling containers to get priority ones restocked in the delivery rows.
“WUT has made every effort to make and keep cargo available for pick up, but unfortunately the long dwell containers are making this extremely difficult,” the message said.