After Months of Skipped Calls, Oakland Gets Boxship Traffic Rebound

port of oakland
File image courtesy Port of Oakland

Published Dec 15, 2021 9:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Oakland says that shipping lines are returning again after months of reduced activity. Congestion at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach prompted many transpacific container ship operators to offload all boxes at LA/Long Beach, skip Oakland and return directly to China to reload. 

After two successive months of import volume decline, the port reported Wednesday that it received 75 vessel calls during the month of November, the most it has seen in six months. Some of these vessels were chartered directly by cargo owners, who are using Oakland to bypass the snarl at LA/Long Beach. 

The increased import traffic is also great news for exporters. Oakland's export traffic took a hit of nearly 10 percent last month - not because of a lack of demand, but because there simply weren't enough ships calling at Oakland to carry the boxes out of the port.  

At current activity levels, the Port of Oakland is on track for a record-setting year, despite the slow months in the fall. 

‘We’re gratified that shipping lines and cargo owners recognize the value of coming to the Port of Oakland,” said the port's Maritime Director, Bryan Brandes. “We’re working hard to move their cargo efficiently as ports elsewhere face headwinds.”

At LA/Long Beach, the cargo backlog continues to set new records. As of Tuesday, there were nearly 100 container ships waiting to berth at the San Pedro Bay ports, including ships at anchorage, drifting just off the coast, slow-steaming in the Pacific or loitering off Baja. 

“Sustained and unmatched demand by the American consumer is pushing our import numbers to new levels,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka in a briefing Wednesday. 

Seroka noted that LA's export volumes are now at the lowest level since 2005, driven down by multiple factors. Chinese retaliatory tariffs, the strength of the U.S. dollar and ocean carriers' strong preference for returning empties (at the expense of loaded export boxes) have all played a role in reducing West Coast exports, he said.