New Saturday and Sunday gates are putting a dent in an extraordinary cargo buildup at the Port of Oakland. The Port said today more than 1,000 U.S. import containers have moved out of its marine terminals every weekend for the past month. It's cargo that would otherwise move weekdays when terminals and harbor truckers strain to manage soaring volume.
"The weekend moves are only a fraction of what we send out the gates Monday-through-Friday so they're not the complete answer to our big buildup" said Port Maritime Director John Driscoll. "But every little bit helps while we're working to keep cargo flowing."
The largest marine terminal operators at the Port have opened weekend gates since Thanksgiving. It's an unusual move precipitated by an unprecedented cargo surge in Oakland. Import volume has increased in each of the past three months compared to previous year totals. The reasons:
Increased U.S. trade with Asia: The Trans-Pacific trade, while not the world's largest, is nevertheless the most vibrant container shipping market thanks to the improving U.S. economy;
Southern California congestion: Ships and containers have been diverted to Oakland to avoid cargo backlogs at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports;
Labor-management negotiations: An impasse in the eight-month-long quest for a new waterfront labor contract has disrupted West Coast port operations.
The import surge is being felt in Oakland. Three-to-nine vessels anchor in San Francisco Bay every day awaiting berths. It sometimes takes truck drivers several hours to get through weekday terminal gates.
A series of measures has been introduced at the Port to manage the volume. Express lanes now expedite simple trucker transactions. Daily status updates advise cargo owners on peak periods for container pick-ups. Traffic-control officers manage lines that build up outside terminals.
Weekend openings are the most complex response to Oakland's cargo increase. Customs inspections must be arranged to clear cargo for pick-up. Extra cargo handlers are needed to load containers onto truck trailers. Clerks have to be hired, as well, to process imports before they're sent out the gates.
Terminal operators, private-sector firms working under leases from the Port of Oakland, are expected to continue moving containers on Saturdays and Sundays while demand persists. That could be another month as U.S. shippers import cargo before Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia.