Despite challenges, California’s ports welcome surge in container throughput

By Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor · September 25, 2020

Container throughput is robust at leading U.S. West Coast ports this season, though it is not without its challenges.

The San Pedro Bay Ports are experiencing a surge in cargo volumes in recent months, influencing an increase in container dwell time in Southern California.

The San Pedro Bay ports saw 1,687,443 TEUs (ten-foot equivalent units) in the month of August, and an average dwell time of 3.25 days. This was the first month with an average container dwell time that reached three or more days since February 2019.

“Container dwell time is on the rise and the amount of containers that remain on a terminal for five or more days is of concern,” notes Jessica Alvarenga, Manager of Government Affairs at the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. 10.1% of containers at the Port of LA and Long Beach stayed on terminals for five or more days before getting picked up, that is up from 5.7% the month before. “It is critical that the containers be picked up as soon as possible and not use marine terminals as storage facilities in order to avoid congestion and keep the supply chain moving efficiently.”

“As we near the holidays, we urge stakeholders to pick up their containers as soon as they are available,” says Alvarenga. “The San Pedro Bay ports are busy moving a tremendous amount of cargo so it requires all members of the supply chain to work together.”

Meanwhile, the state’s third largest ocean cargo gateway reports import cargo volume has increased for the third consecutive month.

The Port of Oakland says that containerized import volume jumped 9 percent in August compared to 2019 totals. Exports were also up, 1.4 percent compared to August 2019.

Spokesmen add that it’s encouraged by the rebound as it enters Peak Season.

Mike Zampa, the port’s director of communications, told LM in an interview that dwell time is “not an issue,” however.

The port attributed the boost in imports to U.S. retailers restocking their dwindling inventories. Shipments include pandemic-related items such as e-commerce goods, medical equipment and personal protective equipment.

“We remain cautious because as we have already seen, the coronavirus pandemic has created lots of uncertainty,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes. “We’re waiting to see how COVID-19 will affect our retail partners.”

According to port spokesmen, the gain in August exports was due to fruit and beverage shipments doing slightly better compared to August 2019.

The port said its year-to-date total cargo volume is down 5 percent from 2019. That’s due primarily to a 25.3 percent drop in shipments of empty cargo containers back to origin destinations.

September 25, 2020