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Oakland Port Director Sees No Impact From Ports America Exit

Oakland Port Director Chris Lytle says he expects no negative impact from the departure of stevedoring giant Ports America from the Port of Oakland.

Ports America says it will vacate the Outer Harbor facility at the Port, which will result in a cessation of vessel operations in four weeks.

Lytle gave a ‘State of the Port’ speech to a luncheon audience on January 21st sponsored by Women in Logistics and the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.

Lytle told the luncheon audience that the Port of Oakland had found alternative space for most of the cargo impacted by the Ports America departure. Lytle said ships and cargo now managed at the terminal would be redirected to neighboring Oakland terminals. “We’ve identified a new home for 90% of the cargo that must be relocated,” he said. As for the remainder of the business, “There is a good solution for that cargo, and we’ll get there.”

Lytle assured the audience, “We at the Port of Oakland will make sure there are no disruptions and no vessels diversions” as a result of the Ports America action.

While Lytle’s assurances were cheered by the luncheon audience, privately some shippers and carriers expressed concerns about the exit of the big stevedoring company and some said they saw it as a vote of no confidence in Oakland.

In explaining the reason for the Oakland departure, a Ports America press release noted, “…Ports America is active in planning its expansion and investment opportunities in its existing locations at both the Port of Tacoma and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Further, Ports America has been invited into the process for new opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.

Given this strategy, the … partners in Outer Harbor Terminal, LLC (OHT) have decided to change the arrangement with the Port of Oakland by returning back to the port the OHT leased property. OHT is organizing this exit transition to ensure seamless continuity of services.”

In other news, Lytle said that Oakland has managed to stem its container losses during 2015 resulting from the longshore labor slow down. The Port is working with labor representatives from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to improve vessel turn-around times and to reduce truck pick up and delivery times. Lytle said the labor shortage that contributed to delays at the Port in 2015 had been addressed by the hiring of 400 new steady and temporary longshore workers.

As a result, in 2016 “we will see growth,” Lytle said.

Among the other topics addressed in the ‘State of the Port’ speech, Lytle noted:

• Labor relations: Lytle expressed thanks for recent collaboration between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, the waterfront employer group. “We’ve made significant progress recently,” he said.

• Rail improvements: The Port will complete construction of its new rail yard in the second quarter of 2016, Lytle said. This will add 44,000 feet of new track. It will give shippers the ability to form complete trains at the Port for transport of containerized imports. He said this will also reduce the congestion that had an impact on neighboring communities in Oakland.

• Cold storage: Construction should begin mid-year on a 370,000 square foot Cool Port Logistics facility. It will be able to receive 36 rail cars per day laden with chilled beef, pork, poultry and other perishables from the U.S. interior. “This will cement Oakland as the premiere location for perishable distribution,” Lytle said.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis

WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT

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