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Global News US West Coast ports start 2023 virtually congestion-free

Registration dateJAN 10, 2023

Bill Mongelluzzo, Senior EditorDec 28, 2022, 9:30 AM EST
Articles reproduced by permission of Journal of Commerce.

Bill Mongelluzzo, Senior Editor
Dec 28, 2022, 9:30 AM EST
source : (The Journal of Commerce)

US West Coast ports start 2023 virtually congestion-free Volumes from Asia through West Coast ports fell 3.6 percent through October 2022 as shippers diverted imports to the East and Gulf coasts.
Photo credit: Angel DiBilio /

The big picture: US West Coast ports are eyeing a steadier flow of cargo as vessel backlogs have evaporated and port operations returned to something approaching normal. But set against those positive signs are worries about overall US import demand in 2023, along with a lack of clarity around how much market share has been lost to US Gulf and East Coast ports as a result of still-unresolved longshore labor negotiations and memories of operational delays in early 2022.

A look back: Declining cargo import volumes through US West Coast ports — down 3.6 percent year over year in the first 10 months of 2022, according to PIERS, a Journal of Commerce sister product within S&P Global — and operational improvements implemented by terminal operators all but cleared congestion from West Coast ports, especially Los Angeles and Long Beach, by the fall. By late November, the container ship backlog outside Los Angeles–Long Beach was zero, down from a record 109 in January. Dwell times for containers leaving the marine terminals by truck were back at or near pre-pandemic averages by October, as were truck turn times at the gates. “There is no congestion. Zero. Zip. This gateway is fluid,” Leo Huisman, managing director/Americas region at APM Terminals, told the Journal of Commerce in late November. The only area of port operations in Los Angeles–Long Beach that remained problematic was rail container dwell times, as BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad continued to “meter” train capacity deployed to the West Coast in order to relieve pressure on their congested ramps in the Midwest. Aside from sporadic work stoppages by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) that lasted a day or two in Oakland and the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle-Tacoma, those ports were also fluid last summer and fall, according to terminal operators.
US West Coast ports ceding TP share to East, Gulf coast gateways
A look ahead: The biggest question hanging over West Coast ports is whether the loss of discretionary cargo to East and Gulf coast ports, caused primarily by the prolonged ILWU contract negotiations with terminal operators, will translate into a permanent loss of market share in 2023 and beyond. From January through October 2022, West Coast ports handled 57.1 percent of US imports from Asia, down from a 61 percent market share in the same 10-month period in 2021. As of mid-December, the outlook for a peaceful resolution to the coastwide longshore contract negotiations was still uncertain, hinging largely on a pending decision from the National Labor Relations Board on a jurisdictional dispute between the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers at Terminal 5 in the Port of Seattle. Although space at warehouses will remain tight, falling freight demand should allow West Coast cargo flow to recover as equipment shortages, inland terminal congestion, and excessive truck turn times ease.

A new normal: When West Coast terminal operators were struggling to handle record cargo volumes as consumer spending spiked in 2021 and 2022, they implemented process improvements to address the congestion. Use of near-dock temporary storage sites, fees to disincentivize long-dwelling containers on marine terminals, and peel piles that aggregate containers for designated importers for rapid removal, for example, have noticeably improved port operations and will remain in place as volumes wane.
· Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.