Port of Oakland says most diverted vessels have returned

In one of the more positive developments to affect West Coast ports since the announcement of a tentative coastwide longshore contract on Feb. 20, the Port of Oakland reported Tuesday that vessels which had been by-passing the Northern California port to keep on schedule have mostly returned.

“Some vessels that were omitting Oakland have already started to return, and a look at schedules indicates that the rest will be back soon,” said John Driscoll, the port’s maritime director.

All West Coast ports have grappled with congestion and vessel backlogs since early November during labor disruptions associated with the contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association. An ILWU caucus in San Francisco on Friday voted overwhelmingly to recommend general membership approval of the tentative agreement that was reached on Feb. 20. Voting will be held next month, with the results to be announced on May 22.

More than two dozen vessels bypassed Oakland in January and February to maintain schedule integrity. Now that carriers are returning to their normal trans-Pacific rotations, importers and exporters in Northern California can resume their standard supply chain practices.

This will certainly help to boost Oakland’s cargo volumes. Vessel by-passes contributed to a 31.6 percent decline in container volume in January and February.

Oakland’s two largest container lines, Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co., have already resumed Oakland calls. The G6 alliance has restored two services and plans to restore two more in April. The CKYHE alliance will be back on its normal schedule by early May, Oakland reported.

The port continues to work with terminal operators and trucking companies to improve gate fluidity. Some trucking companies report their drivers are spending too much time in long lines outside the terminal gates. Port spokesman Mike Zampa said truck visit times vary widely, with some truckers reporting turn times as short as 38 minutes and others saying turn times are several hours.

Vessel calls in Seattle-Tacoma have returned to normal, and container backlogs on the terminals have dissipated. Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw said occasional surges in exports result in truck bunching at the gates, however.

Terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach are deploying huge quantities of labor on day, night and weekend shifts to reduce the congestion that is still present in the largest U.S. port complex. For example, the PMA reported that on Saturday 1,092 longshore jobs were ordered. The average for a Saturday is 970. On Monday, 1,547 longshore jobs were ordered for the first shift. The average dispatch for a Monday morning gate is 1,260.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California said eight container ships were at anchor on Tuesday. That was down from 10 vessels on Monday. As the vessel backlog in Southern California is reduced, container lines’ schedule integrity in the Pacific Southwest services will improve. The ships call in Oakland after leaving Los Angeles-Long Beach.

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