Port of New York and New Jersey Becomes America's Busiest Box Port

For at least one month, the East Coast's busiest container port became the busiest container port in the U.S.

Courtesy PANYNJ

Published Sep 25, 2022 9:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last month, volumes at the Port of Los Angeles fell below both Port of Long Beach and the Port of New York and New Jersey, making PANYNJ the top port in North America by container volume for the period.

PANYNJ moved more than 843,000 TEU in the month of August, setting a new August record, according to CNBC. Long Beach moved about 807,000 TEU, just barely edging out Los Angeles' 805,000 TEU.

The cross-country shift is partly due to shipper anxiety about ongoing talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the employers' bargaining organization for West Coast terminal operators. The previous labor agreement ended in July, and talks on the key sticking points - wages and terminal automation - have not made progress in recent weeks. Some shippers are concerned that the possibility of a disruptive strike is on the rise. 

Already, ILWU dockers have refused to work some vessels at the semi-automated Pier 400 in LA over safety concerns. And in a development reminiscent of the Port of Portland reefer plug dispute, the Wall Street Journal reports that a long-running disagreement between the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers appears to be on the contract bargaining table table as well. 

All these factors have shippers looking to the U.S. East Coast to hedge their bets. In addition to PANYNJ, Savannah and Houston are seeing increased numbers, with volume at both ports ticking up in August. 

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka chalked up some of the decline in August cargo volume to changing trading patterns, with shippers bringing their fall and winter season cargo in early to ensure against disruption. "Additionally, inflationary concerns and elevated inventory levels have made some retailers and e-commerce sellers more cautious," he said. 

The good news for the Port of LA is that its headline-making backlog is nearly gone. Seroka said that compared with earlier this year, the number of container ships waiting for a berth at the port is down by 90 percent.