Oakland welcomes import cargo surge after volumes collapsed in January

Aerial view of containers and container ships in the Oakland port.

An unprecedented containerised import surge resumed at the Port of Oakland last month following a January decline, the Port said in a statement on 15 March.

Import volume soared 26.2% in February compared to the same month in 2020. Oakland welcomed the news after supply chain disruption elsewhere drove its January import totals down nearly 12%.

“It’s what we expected,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes. “Oakland continues to benefit from an unrelenting trade boom. We also completed the assembly of three new giant cranes which will further improve efficiency.”

The Port said it handled the equivalent of 80,200 20-foot import containers in February 2021. It was the busiest February for import cargo in its 94-year history, the Port said.

In addition, it loaded 69,588 export containers onto outbound ships. That was an 11% decline from February 2020 export totals. The Port explained that scarce vessel space hindered exporters attempting to ship cargo overseas.

The Port said import volume has risen dramatically since summer 2020 thanks to increased US consumer spending.

It attributed January’s downturn to congestion at Southern California ports that forestalled some Oakland vessel arrivals.

Port and industry analysts forecast continued strong import volume through at least the second quarter of 2021. Asian factories are shipping goods in record numbers to replenish American store shelves and assembly lines. Retailers, manufacturers and e-commerce distributors are driving the surge, the Port said.

More containers, fewer ships

The trade phenomenon is reflected in 2021 vessel loading data. On average, vessels load and unload the equivalent of 2,500 twenty-foot containers in Oakland, the Port reported. That is a record for Oakland, up from an average of 1,900 containers per ship last year, the Port said.

While cargo volume is growing in Oakland, the number of ships arriving is down 26%.  According to Port data, 156 ships called in Oakland during January and February. In the first two months of 2020, 212 ships visited.

The Port attributed reduced vessel arrivals to two factors:

•             Shipping lines are consolidating more cargo on fewer vessels to cut operating costs.

•             Disruption at Southern California ports has caused some ships to miss Oakland calls.

The Port said fewer ship arrivals should help ease berth crowding in Oakland. It added that fewer ships would mean less diesel pollution from vessel smokestacks.

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