Container volumes at West Coast ports increased 4 percent in December, but 2012 overall was a lackluster year as the total of import and export containers increased only 2 percent from 2011.
According to numbers published on the Web site of the Pacific Maritime Association, imports led the way, increasing 3 percent from 2011. Exports declined 1 percent. The drop in exports most likely resulted from slowing manufacturing in China and a subsequent drop in shipments of raw materials to that country.
The ports of Seattle and Tacoma outperformed other port regions, with the total container volume last year increasing 4 percent. The container volume in Los Angeles-Long Beach increased 1 percent, Oakland was flat, and the container volume in Portland dropped 2 percent.
The December spike in container traffic was most likely a one-month phenomenon that followed the reopening of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach after an eight-day strike by the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63.
OCU demonstrators effectively shut down 10 of the 14 container terminals beginning Nov. 27 when ILWU dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines. Container traffic dropped in November compared to the same month in 2011, but most of the volume that was lost that month was included in the December count after the ports reopened.
All U.S. West Coast ports are feeling the competition from Prince Rupert, Canada. That port, located 500 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia, has direct rail service to Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans.
Prince Rupert, which launched it container operations in November 2007, handled 564,856 20-foot containers last year, an increase of 37.6 percent over 2011. About two-thirds of the port’s container volume originates in or is destined for markets in the United States.
The port has conducted an environmental impact study on an expanded container terminal that would increase annual throughput capacity in Prince Rupert to 2 million TEUs.