Port congestion spreads on US west coast

Recent congestion issues at Southern California ports have now begun to impact operations of other ports along the North American Pacific Coast.

Oakland Port in San Francisco Bay has said that a spreading of supply chain congestion was a factor contributing to a decline in volumes in January. San Francisco Bay has also become crowded, with ships waiting for space at the container terminals.

Oakland port said that ships arriving late from Southern California were one reason that the port saw 11%-to-12% declines in imports and exports compared with the same period last year. Congestion in Southern California was creating delays of up to a week for Oakland vessel arrivals. This had caused ships to arrive off-schedule and sometimes to miss their berthing appointments.

Oakland Port officials also reported a fall in available space on outbound vessels for exports because shipping lines were rushing to return empties to Asia. The volume of empties loaded at the port in January increased by 24% year on year, exceeding 36,000 teu.

In addition, the port reported an increase in the number of ships coming directly to the port, seeking to avoid the congestion at the San Pedro Bay ports.

Oakland noted the arrival of the first CMA CGM boxship, the 3,650 teu container ship CMA CGM Africa Four (IMO 9451965), sailing directly from China. This was part of the CMA CGM’s rerouted express service, which was now using terminals in Oakland and Seattle, without stops in Southern California. The Africa Four is currently en route from Seattle to Kaohsiung in Taiwan.

Oakland said that it had been more than a decade since Oakland had offered a first-call service to US importers. It said that other ocean carriers were also contemplating Oakland first-calls by the middle of the year.

Unluckily for Oakland, the increase in the number of vessels arriving at the port coincided with the port temporarily losing a small amount of berth capacity at its largest marine terminal. New cranes that will increase the volume capability of Oakland were currently being assembled at the terminal, and this had caused a short-term fall in capacity.

Marine Exchange of Southern California reported that there were currently 104 ships in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, but at anchorage the total had fallen from a high of 60 vessels to fewer than 50, with 33 waiting for terminal space.

In San Francisco Bay there were currently about 20 ships at anchor, with only four additional anchorage spaces available. The US Coast Guard said that it had the authority to order ships to slow down and delay their arrival when the anchorage was full.

Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said that there was “a lot of cargo trapped on ships just waiting to get to here after departing Southern California”, adding that “our concern is getting shipments to our customers as quickly as we can.”

Oakland said that the declining cargo volumes at the port in January were believed to be an anomaly and that volumes would improve as soon as the bottlenecks on the West Coast eased.

Further north, the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which manages the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, has reported that it was well-positioned to help minimize berth congestion and cargo delays along the West Coast.

Northwest Seaport Alliance CEO John Wolfe said that “the Northwest Seaport Alliance has ample terminal capacity, provides efficient operations and low dwell times that ensure cargo moves quickly onto its ultimate destination.”

2010-built, Bahamas-flagged, 40,827 gt CMA CGM Africa Four is owned by Bering Sea Shipping Corp care of CMA CGM of Marseille, France. It is entered with Steamship Mutual (European syndicated) on behalf of Bering Sea Shipping Corp.