WASHINGTON: After struggling all year with cargo diversion due to labor problems, West Coast ports in November finally turned the corner, registering gains in all categories of container throughput.
Numbers posted on the Pacific Maritime Association website for laden containers show that total container throughput at West Coast ports in November increased 1 percent over November 2014. Imports were up 10 percent and exports increased 3 percent.
Last November marked the beginning of International Longshore and Warehouse Union work slowdowns as the lengthy contract negotiations with employers hit an impasse. West Coast ports experienced severe congestion in early 2015 to the point where as many as 28 container ships were stuck at anchor outside of Los Angeles-Long Beach, with dozens of vessels likewise idled in Northern California and Seattle-Tacoma.
Cargo interests diverted as many shipments as possible from the West Coast, and container throughput on the coast was down for much of the past year. West Coast ports experienced a fairly strong peak season, though, and the November numbers, when benchmarked off of the troubled month of November last year, look decent.
On a year-to-date basis, however, West Coast ports are still down. Total laden containers handled through November decreased 3 percent from the same period last year. Imports have picked up, showing a 2 percent gain year-to-date through November, and exports were down 9 percent. Exports will remain weak into the new year due to the strong dollar and flagging economic conditions among major U.S. trading partners.
On a regional level, the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle and Tacoma was by far the strongest gateway. Total laden containers increased 36 percent in November and 3 percent year-to-date. Seattle-Tacoma was the only gateway to experience growth in the first 11 months of the year.
Total container throughput in Los Angeles-Long Beach increased 6 percent in November but was still down 2 percent year-to-date. Oakland was down 7 percent in November and 6 percent year-to-date.
Portland has almost slipped off the map as a container port due to more than two years of labor strife involving ILWU Local 8 and the operator of the Oregon port’s only container terminal. The relentless work slowdowns and poor productivity that began in June 2012 over a jurisdictional dispute resulted last spring in the departure of the port’s two largest container lines.
Portland in November handled only 745 twenty-foot-equivalent units, down from 9,069 in November 2014. Year-to-date, Portland’s container throughput was 21,295 TEUs, compared to 123,782 TEUs in the first 11 months of 2014.