Are We On The Verge of a Complete West Coast Port Shutdown?

Update on Port Conditions

I don’t want to be the boy who cried wolf, and I certainly have been ringing the alarm often these last few months. However recent actions at the West Coast port terminals have undeniably put us right on the brink of a complete port shutdown. With all three major ports areas (Seattle/Tacoma, Oakland, Los Angeles/Long Beach) discontinuing longshoremen labor at night to unload containers off vessels, the port conditions will only continue to get worse.

In the past few weeks we have seen the following:

  • SSA and BENT terminal in Oakland shut down last Thursday due to disagreement between the ILWU and PMA..
  • Five strings calling the port of Oakland have been eliminated. This will significantly decrease the capacity coming to Oakland. Those with containers on vessels that eliminated the Oakland port calling will have containers railed to the port of Oakland from the port of discharge.
  • Vessels continue to sit at the port of Los Angeles/Long Beach for multiple weeks before departing.
  • Containers that are unloaded from vessels have an increased likelihood of being put into a closed area.
  • Steamship lines and terminals are in some cases barely extending any free time when containers are put into closed areas.
  • Some terminals are refusing to accept empty container returns for extended periods of time.
  • For export shipments, some terminals are refusing to accept loaded containers that are ready to be delivered to the terminal. This only acerbates the chassis shortage problem as many of these loaded containers are sitting on chassis that are much needed on the import side. One of our trucking partners indicated to us that they have over 300 loaded export containers sitting in their yard or at their customer’s dock waiting for the terminals to accept them.

I mentioned that the PMA and ILWU agreed to Federal Mediation at the beginning of the year. Mediation was supposed to be accompanied with a news blackout. However both the PMA and ILWU have been trading public attacks leading us to believe that mediation is not working.

My feeling is that the next step will be a complete port shutdown. There’s no where left for the situation to progress to. One local carrier representative mentioned to me that we should pull out from the ports as many containers as we can right now as a shutdown could happen any moment. I found this comment amusing as no one is holding back on pulling out containers. We’ve been desperately trying to get containers out as quickly as possible these last few months. The trucker who has 300 export containers waiting to be returned to the terminal also believes that this situation cannot go on for long.

Monday, January 19th, is MLK holiday. Some terminals are open. Others will be closed. A few will be open in limited capacity only. One less day to pull out containers will not help.

I hope I am wrong about a shutdown, but all signs indicate that we are sitting on the precipice and staring straight at a shutdown.

What alternatives do shippers have?

Many shippers have come to me asking me what alternatives they have.

  • If they have the ability to ship to the East Coast or perhaps to Houston, this is an alternative. Note that transit time is long (but perhaps not as long as having to wait it out at the West Coast ports). Furthermore, capacity on vessels to the East Coast is also very tight.
  • What about Canada? If you ship to the Midwest, you should undoubtedly be looking at rail through Vancouver or Prince Rupert as an alternative. However for those on the West Coast, is Vancouver really a viable option? The product would have to be removed from the container and transloaded onto a trailer before being trucked to the most locations in the United States. I recently priced this service out with a few various truckers. The current rough estimated cost to get a container of product from Vancouver to the San Francisco Bay Area would be somewhere between $4500 and $5000. There would be some variation depending on the size of the shipment and whether or not the product floor-loaded or palletized. This is a very rough estimate that could certainly change in the coming months/
  • What about air freight? This would have to be a last resort as air freight rates will assuredly surge during this time.

We will be watching this situation closely and providing updates as we receive them.

– Jimmy Ting
Great World
jimmyting@gwlcorp.com
t: 650-873-9050 x1019

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. I currently have 2 containers at the port of Oakland ready to be put on a vessel. The liner has omitted several of the vessels that my containers were to go on. It has been 3 weeks now and now the liner has temporally suspended all calls into Oakland. This is terrible, now the costs to move this to another liner and or port will be ridiculous on a rate that was already high to begin with. What am I to do, will Liner pay for costs to get this moving? Any advice suggestions?

    1. Hi Melissa,

      I’m sorry to hear about this. From my understanding, there are at least FIVE service strings to Oakland that have been eliminated in the past month. Your liner was not the only one to temporarily suspend calls to the port of Oakland. Unfortunately, you are left to hold the bill for having to transload the cargo onto containers with a different steamship line. We currently have many customers with containers than also cannot be loaded onto vessels.

      I would say, your highest priority right now would be to actually get the cargo on board an outbound vessel. If you can succeed in doing so, you’ve already won the battle. If there were to be an actual extended port shutdown, your cargo could potentially sit for much longer before actually shipping out.

      -Jimmy Ting
      Great World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s