U.S.: West Coast port users express shock at 'unbelievable' congestion

January 28 , 2015

Chile-based shipping company Global Reefers has said it has never seen congestion so severe before in U.S. West Coast ports, and that its vessels are facing days’ worth of delays before they can unload. containers

A representative of the joint venture between Pacific Seaways and Seatrade told www.freshfruitportal.com the one or two vessels per week arriving into the Port of Long Beach from Chile never knew how long they would be delayed for on any given day.

“The situation is that once you arrive there isn’t any guarantee or any specific date for when you can unload the containers on deck,” CEO Francisco Labarca said.

“These vessels are not carrying a lot of containers on deck, maybe 100 or 150 containers, and the balance of the cargo is under deck in palletized cargo. But if you cannot unload the containers then you cannot unload the palletized cargo under deck either.”

“Up until last season you’d hardly ever experience delays, maybe one day or something, but now because of the congestion they cannot serve you.”

Global Reefers has been looking for a solution to the problem, but Labarca said there simply wasn’t one at this time.

“We cannot quit the service and leave all the exporters here with no possibilities. We don’t know what we’re going to do, honestly,” he said.

“It’s getting worse and there are no signs of recovering. As well the products we are carrying are very sensitive; it’s peaches, nectarines, grapes – this is not cargo that you can delay.”

The CEO added he believed some Chilean shippers may soon start looking for new destinations for their cargo as the U.S. West Coast becomes increasingly problematic.

“There’s a little bit of shock right now because it’s the first time we’ve faced something like this on the West Coast. And it’s an important market for Chile,” Labarca said.

‘People are afraid of the ports’

A representative of California-based customers broker J&K Fresh – which specializes in imported produce – said aspects other than the ongoing contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) had made the situation worse over recent months.

“We had what the media were calling ‘the perfect storm’, because in the fall they still hadn’t settled, then steam ship lines got out of the chassis business, which is a whole other issue. So that was causing delays too,” CEO Lynnette Keffer said.

“There’s also been more and more mega-ships in our in ports, too, which are the nation’s largest ports.

“[West Coast ports] handle over 40% of the nation’s imports and we had a 7% increase last year, and a lot of them were the mega-ships which take a lot longer to load and unload. There’s somewhat of a trucker shortage as well.”

Keffer added that the hardest aspect about the whole situation was that she had no control over it.

“It’s our livelihood, it’s our clients’ livelihoods, and we have no control,” she said.

“It’s almost worse than if they were striking because nobody knows what to do. Until there’s a contract I think a lot of the produce people are afraid of the ports, because congestion is one issue but then if you get stuck in a walkout or a lockout that’s a whole other issue.”

She added that refrigerated shipments were generally prioritized upon unloading and so were moving once they were on the ground, but for now it was imperative that a deal be made between the ILWU and PMA.

“For us we can also go through Houston, and we have J&K Fresh East in Philadelphia, so if the fruit gets diverted I can handle that, but what about my clients? How many more charges is that for them? What about the state of California? What’s that going to do to our business?” Keffer said.

“We need a contract and we need these people to work through the issues to resolve them.”

Related stories: U.S.: AAPA, Port of Oakland applaud Federal Mediator action on labor talks

U.S.: Pacific Maritime Association requests federal mediation in port talks

U.S.: West Coast port talks end ‘not close’, says employer

U.S.: West Coast exporters ‘substantially delayed’, says Western Growers

U.S.: West Coast port slowdown accusations ‘a bold-faced lie’, says ILWU

Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons



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