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Port of Oakland’s Wan & Brandes see recovery in sailings

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After experiencing a decline in ocean carrier sailings over the last several months, the Port of Oakland is starting to see an uptick in sailings and volumes, according to Port of Oakland executive director Danny Wan.

Wan was addressing the Propeller Club of Northern California on December 7th.

He ascribed the loss of sailings to the decision by ocean carriers to by-pass Oakland after experiencing long delays at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The ships headed back to Asia as quickly as possible to pick up more imports for transport back to Southern California.

An additional problem was that earlier this year there were insufficient longshore workers at Port of Oakland terminals to handle the increased volume of ships arriving from Asia and a back-up of ships ensued similar to that at Los Angeles and Long Beach. Since then, more longshore workers have been trained thanks to a collaboration between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Wan said the Port is working with the Biden Administration to attract more federal infrastructure investment dollars to help the Port improve traffic flows and reduce delays.

The current congestion crisis at U.S. ports argues for marine stakeholders to add their voices and encourage federal and state governments to invest more money in ports.

The problems U.S. agricultural exporters face obtaining space on ocean carriers is now recognized as a national problem and not just a local problem impacting California ports.

Wan introduced his maritime director Bryan Brandes, who provided details about improvements in cargo volumes and the steps the Port is taking to improve traffic flows and cargo-handling.

Brandes said that despite the recent downturn in sailings, data covering the months of January to October of 2021 compared to the same period for 2020 shows that full imports at the Port of Oakland are up 8% but full exports are down 6.3%.

Total container volume for the January-October 2021 period shows a rise of 1.7% over the same period of 2020.

Vessel calls to Oakland are down 30.6%, reflecting 327 fewer calls, but the average calls sizes are up by 46.6%.

Major events for the Port of Oakland in 2021

  • Three new cranes went into operation at Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest terminal at the Port.
  • One new crane went into operation at Everport.
  • Four carriers are calling Oakland first before heading to other West Coast ports and an additional first Oakland port-of-call service is expected soon.
  • The Port is looking to expand its business by attracting new bulk, aggregate, breakbulk and Roll On Roll Off services.
  • The Port is expanding its deployment of electric trucks as well as hybrid rubber tire gantry cranes.
  • The Port’s Seaport Logistics Complex will be expanding its cross-dock capabilities as well as expanding grain/aggregate transloading and expanded fumigation facilities.

Brandes said the Port has also embarked on:

A new land use study to improve its revenues and product mix.

An upgrade for the now idled Outer Harbor Terminal to attract a new container terminal operator or to use the 120-acre site to expand existing terminal operations. The existing ship to shore cranes need major repairs estimated to take 6 months to complete. The hope is that the facility will provide additional cargo-handling for ships sailing between the West Coast and Asia.

The activation of the Freight Intelligence Transportation System will improve truck flows at the Port by providing traffic updates.

Following Brandes’ presentation, several executives warned that problems still exist at the Port.

Randy Strait, senior director transportation meat and pork, Tyson Foods, says the company is a major exporter of proteins to Asia. He is worried that Tyson and the Port may lose export sales to Asia as a result of congestion, delays and a lack of reefer capacity at the Port.

Susan Ransom is the client service manager for Stevedoring Services of America which runs Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT). She said SSA will be imposing fees on containers that dwell too long on the terminal “to encourage companies to pick up their boxes.” Ransom said that “high truck dwell times at warehouses are slowing the return of chassis and hurting our ability to move containers out of the terminal … We are scrambling to repair chassis because of the shortage … The chassis shortage is dire.”

Scott Taylor, chairman of harbor trucking company GSC Logistics, said he had a “disturbing conversation with a BCO (beneficial cargo owner), who expressed concern about the future of the Port of Oakland if the Oakland A’s ballpark is allowed to be built at the Port’s Howard Terminal.” Taylor said that the proposed ballpark and condominium complex will severely impact truck traffic moving in and out of the Port.

Brandes responded that he is working with Strait and Tyson to relieve the reefer shortage.

Both Brandes and Wan expressed the hope that the Port will continue to operate without major disruptions if the Oakland A’s ballpark is built at Howard Terminal.

Brandes said that the Port should reach out to the Biden Administration to support more chassis manufacturing by U.S. builders. This will relieve delays at Oakland and other U.S. ports. One warehouse executive told AJOT that an order for a new chassis from a U.S. builder can take six months to fill.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis

WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT

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