Oakland Adds First-Call Services, Providing Alternative to Congestion

Port of Oakland expands calls as alternative to port congestion
MSC will become the fourth carrier to use Oakland as a first-call port (Port of Oakland photo)

Published Oct 1, 2021 6:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Oakland in central California continues to benefit from the ongoing congestion and backlogs at southern California ports. Carriers are continuing to look for alternatives to speed their service and provide schedule reliability for shippers, and smaller ports are providing a solution. 

Starting in November, MSC will become the fourth container carrier to make Oakland the first port of call in the United States on one of its shipping routes. First call status is critical according to port officials because the majority of U.S. import cargo, which is usually time sensitive, is normally discharged at the first port. Oakland officials said that import cargo is now making up 55 percent of the port’s volumes in 2021 due to its growing role as a first-call port. 

MSC said its weekly service would link Oakland with ports in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. MSC’s new Sentosa Service follows first-calls introduced in Oakland this year by CMA CGM, Matson, and Wan Hai Lines.

It had been more than a decade since Oakland offered a first-call service to U.S. importers before CMA CGM began its first call service in February 2021 with port rotations of Shanghai, Yantian, Oakland, Seattle, Kaohsiung. At the end of July, Matson started an Oakland-China first-call service, while Wan Hai is maintaining a route between Oakland with the Asian ports of Kaohsiung, Ningbo, and Qingdao.

“We’re excited to welcome MSC’s service because Southeast Asia is an important, growing market,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes. “We’re also gratified that the shipping industry continues to acknowledge Oakland’s role in world trade by adding more and more capacity.”

While Oakland is seeing a rise in its volumes in 2021, the port however experienced a decline in the number of vessel calls. In August, the port saw a 40 percent drop versus 2020 in the number of containership calls. Officials said this was in part due to reroutings due to congestion through the Pacific and port disruptions. Larger size vessels and the first-call service however meant that the port saw a slight increase in import volumes in August and for the year imports are up 14 percent in the first eight months. 

Oakland's officials said in September that they have cleared up crowing at its berths and container yards. Among the steps they are taking to prepare the port for maintained increases is the addition of larger ship-to-shore cranes.  In June, they took delivery on a new crane that has a lift height from the dock of 170 feet. After assembly and testing, the crane started operating this week at Oakland’s Ben E. Nutter Terminal run by Everport Terminal Services.