The great discharge has begun.
West Coast ports from Seattle to San Diego continued to clear away backlogs and return to normal three days after the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing ship management, reached tentative agreement on a five-year contract. The agreement ended a nine-month standoff that curtailed activity at the 29 West Coast ports under the union's jurisdiction and forced the White House to intervene to settle the dispute.
At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the country's busiest port complex, there were anywhere from 27 to 35 vessels at anchor today, depending on the source of the estimates. As of this morning, there were 20 ships berthed at the Port of Los Angeles, according to Phillip Sanfield, a port spokesman. Though many of the ships were being worked, there isn't sufficient labor available to make meaningful headway with so many ships berthed, Sanfield said.
About 26 ships were anchored at the adjacent Port of Long Beach, down from 27 yesterday, according to Lee Peterson, a spokesman for the country's second-busiest port after Los Angeles. All terminals were open and operating, Peterson said. It is expected to take Long Beach between one to three months to clear out the backlog, Peterson said.
Executives at both ports said they plan to hold a "supply chain stakeholder summit" once the labor contract is ratified, in order to look at solutions to the cargo flow challenges specific to San Pedro Bay. It is unclear at this time when the tentative agreement will be put up for a ratification vote.
Operations at the twin ports, which handle 43 percent of the nation's import traffic and 27 percent of its exports, have been hampered by the lack of available truck chassis equipment needed to move containers to and from vessels and by the advent of larger containerships carrying more cargoes, which has overwhelmed its infrastructure. On March 1, the ports expect to launch a "gray chassis pool" program where the three major chassis-pool operators at the ports would share their equipment, thus allowing truckers to pick up a chassis/container combination at any designated location in the harbor and return it to any of those locations, regardless of who controls the asset.
One of the sticking points of the nine-month negotiations was the ILWU's insistence that it maintain jurisdiction over all maintenance and repair work on outbound chassis. In a contract proposal made public in early February, PMA said it agreed to allow ILWU to maintain control over the work.
The Port of Oakland reported full operations today, with nine vessels at berth and 17 more anchored in San Francisco Bay or at a holding station at the Golden Gate Bridge, according to Mike Zampa, a port spokesman. Truck traffic was reportedly light at the gates of all five of the port's terminals, Zampa said.
Peter McGraw, a spokesman for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, said today that its terminals are full, with five vessels berthed. The ports have consistently had five vessels at anchor throughout the impasse, McGraw said.