NY/NJ Port community tackled issues as they arose

It’s a story that’s being replayed in supply chains and at ports across the globe, including the port of New York and New Jersey. After a few months of dramatic declines in cargo, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a resurgence beyond all expectations took place.

After seeing monthly declines of over 16%, the port of New York and New Jersey set a February cargo record this year, with increases of 6.8% over the previous record from February 2019. This follows on the heels of even more dramatic gains of 16% in January, 21% in December, 23% in November, and 13% in October, all compared to pre-COVID months in 2019.

March 2021 figures, which haven’t been made public, “remain very strong,” said Beth Rooney, the deputy port director, in an exclusive interview with the AJOT, “and we haven’t taken our foot off the pedal yet.” The port usually looks for yearly growth of between 3% and 3.5%, levels not likely to be seen again until 2022.

These levels of cargo growth are so dramatic that they represent “five years of growth in just six months,” said Rooney. In other words, the port is currently handling volumes that had been previously projected for 2026.

All of which has created problems for the port and its stakeholders. “It has stressed the supply chain at every node,” said Rooney. “We didn’t have five years to make infrastructure investments, equipment adjustments, or procedures to bring on additional personnel.”

Beth Rooney, deputy port director, PANYNJ
Beth Rooney, deputy port director, PANYNJ

Maximum Load Factors

As a result, “Everything is tight,” said Rooney. “Capacity is tight, dwell time across the gateway has doubled, containers are remaining on the terminal longer, and they’re sitting on chassis on the street longer.”

Ocean carriers and shippers are having difficulty finding empty containers at points of origin and it’s become harder getting space on ships. “Ships are leaving their origins at 100% load factors, so they are discharging larger volumes of cargo at the port,” said Rooney. “The increase in larger ship activity at the port during 2020 was significant.” Last year, 28% of vessels handled at the port were over 13,000 TEUs, up 4% over 2019.

Meanwhile, warehouses are still operating under COVID manning procedures. Crews are smaller, so loading and unloading take that much longer. “It’s taking longer for cargo to get off the terminal and longer to get into warehouses,” said Rooney. “Boxes are sitting on chassis in warehouse parking lots and the truckers’ storage yards.”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and its stakeholders have taken measures to address these issues, and, according to Rooney, they are being handled better at NYNJ than in some other places. “We attribute this to the Council on Port Performance,” a public-private body convened to address challenges faced by the…

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