Cargo traffic congestion slowly easing at West Coast ports

Monday, 6 April 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  LOS ANGELES (Reuters): Cargo congestion at the two busiest US container ports has eased considerably in the six weeks since West Coast dockworkers and shippers reached a tentative labour deal, but port officials said it would take several more weeks for freight traffic to return to normal. The most obvious sign of improved cargo flow through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is a sharp decline in the number of inbound freighters kept waiting at anchor for dock space to open, Los Angeles port spokesman Paul Sanfield said. Nine vessels stood idle outside the twin ports on Tuesday and Wednesday, down from the 31 stacked up at anchor during the height of the cargo crisis that reached the point of near gridlock in February, Sanfield said. He said berths were normally available as soon as freighters arrived at the two ports, which together handle 43% of all containerised goods entering the United States. Sanfield said the average time it took cargo ships to get in and out of the terminals declined to 7.6 days last week from 8.4 days in early March. Turnaround times usually average four to five days, he said. Cargo loads were reported to have faced lag times of two weeks or more during months of labour negotiations at all 29 US West Coast ports between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and major shipping lines and terminal operators. Port slowdowns, blamed by each side on the other as pressure tactics during the talks, snarled trans-Pacific maritime trade and reverberated throughout the US economy, extending to agriculture, manufacturing, retail and transportation. A settlement was reached on 20 February with the help of a federal mediator and intervention by US Labour Secretary Thomas Perez. The terminals and their union workforce have since made steady progress in clearing the cargo backlog, although it will likely take several more weeks for the ports to regain their ordinary rhythm, Sanfield said. He said operational issues that hampered cargo traffic through last year must still be addressed, including the growing number of supersized freighters now calling on the ports. But damage to West Coast port business had already been done, he said, as some customers began to reroute shipments. A Journal of Commerce industry poll of 138 shippers published days after the labour settlement found 65 planned to direct less cargo through the West Coast this year and next.