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West Coast’s loss is the East Coast’s gain as volumes affected by labour disputes

West Coast’s loss is the East Coast’s gain as volumes affected by labour disputes
The West Coast congestion has taken its toll on Long Beach, usually one of the US's busiest ports

Ports on the US West Coast suffered a decline in container volumes in January as the ongoing labour disputes ensured congestion continued to plague operations.

Some of these volumes have transferred to other US ports as the likes of Virginia and South Carolina on the East Coast excelled with double digit growth.

Normally one of the country’s busiest container ports, the Port of Long Beach reported an 18.8% fall in throughput with 429,490 teu handled compared to 528,884 teu in January last year.

The ports of Seattle and Tacoma saw their combined container volumes fall 13% for the month to 226,906 teu, continuing a trend that started in November; containerised imports plunged 21% to 89,982 teu and exports dipped 7% to 81,213 teu.

Also on the West Coast, the Port of Oakland announced that cargo volume in January witnessed a dramatic decline of 32% with imports plummeting 38% and exports down 19%.

The Port of Oakland said in a statement that importers have begun diverting containerised cargo to gateways outside the US West Coast, including ports in Canada, Mexico and the US East Coast.

On the East Coast, the Port of Virginia handled 191,996 teu, an increase of 15% on last January, and the South Carolina Ports Authority dealt with 152,917 teu, a 18% lift on last year.

“With a decline in productivity and a breakdown in vessel schedules at all US West Coast ports, cargo volumes are far from normal,” added Port of Oakland maritime director John Driscoll.

Next month’s cargo figures seem likely to fall even further as the crisis has worsened with 29 US West Coast ports shutting down for four days earlier this month, as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) remain at loggerheads.

While the backlog of ships has stretched to over 30 in recent days at Los Angeles and Long Beach, Port of Long Beach chief executive Jon Slangerup, said: “We have been strongly urging the two parties to come to an agreement on a new contract, so that we can clear the backlog of cargo on the docks and the ships anchored off the coast.

“We are encouraged by recent progress through Federal mediation and are hopeful that the contract will be signed soon, so that the Port complex can focus on returning operations to a normal pace.”

A more buoyant John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, noted: “While we continue to experience challenges at the gates, cargo owners are choosing to move their cargo over Virginia because they see a sense of urgency in what we are doing and they see us beginning to invest.”