West coast ports gridlock crisis

Source: Port Strategy
The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) warns that US west coast ports have reached gridlock with little space available for additional import containers arriving and no space for export and empty containers returning to the docks.

Meanwhile the claim and counterclaim wrangle between the employer’s body and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) over a new labour agreement continues as it has done for the past eight months.
The gridlock itself has been partly caused by the shipping line members of the PMA, most of which decided to exit the truck chassis business over recent years in order to cut costs. This has left a shortage of equipment to unload an increased number of containers arriving at any one time to try to beat potential labour unrest at the ports.
This congestion has no doubt been exacerbated by work slow-downs in Seattle and Tacoma and Los Angeles and Long Beach, where the troubles have meant reduced crane drivers working the yards and stalling the movement of containers.
But PMA’s new plan to eliminate night-shifts at many ports, to include bulk and break-bulk operations and switch workers to the yards to try and ease the congestion has been criticised by the ILWU for doing nothing to help ease the congestion crisis.
Neil Davidson, senior analyst – ports & terminals, Drewry Maritime Research, told Port Strategy that aside from the obvious issues, there are other serious underlying issues causing congestion at west coast ports.
There is the lack of truck drivers because they are finding they cannot make a good enough living, intermodal rail capacity issues, volume peaks caused by the deployment of ever-larger container vessels into the trans-Pacific trade and the formation of larger carrier alliances vs. the fragmented terminal capacity on the USWC, meaning calls at multiple terminals in the same port and/or high levels of inter-terminal transfers.
“I don’t think that anyone can second guess what will happen with the PMA and ILWU negotiations.,” Mr Davidson said. “Will the involvement of a federal mediator lead to a swift resolution or will we see a lock-out like we did in 2002? In any case, even when the labour issues are finally resolved, a number of the above problems will still remain,” he added.