U.S. East Coast ports experienced widely varying impacts from the months-long threat of labor strife that began last year with the breakdown of talks for a new International Longshoremen’s Association contract.
Because the ILA contract was not settled until early this year, cargo diversions continued into the first quarter of 2013 for some ports. “We still had the hangover effect from all the diversions to the West Coast,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. Savannah’s overall container volumes declined 1.1 percent in calendar 2012 and were flat in the first quarter because they were slow to recover from the strike threat.
“Once our customers were confident that the ILA contract issues were resolved, they started routing cargo back to the East Coast, so I anticipate growth in the 5 to 7 percent range for the balance of the year,” Foltz said.
Norfolk, too, is seeing a return of cargo that had been diverted to the West Coast by the threat of an ILA strike. “Shippers started to gain confidence in the fourth quarter that the contract would be settled, and 99 percent came back in the first quarter,” said Rodney Oliver, interim executive director of the Virginia Port Authority.
VPA volumes increased 9.8 percent in calendar 2012 while East Coast volume grew at about 2.6 percent as a whole. Volumes climbed 6.2 percent for the year to date through April, compared to less than half that for all East Coast ports. The VPA forecasts volume growth of 4.3 percent for fiscal year 2014, ending April 30, 2014, after 6.3 percent growth in fiscal 2013.
Charleston did not experience as much cargo diversion to West Coast ports as other East Coast ports because it is not as dependent on retail imports, but the port did see diversion of some exports. “Exporters diverted cargo two or three times last year, but all that has come back,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority.
Charleston’s volumes, which grew 9.6 percent in calendar year 2012, are targeted to grow by almost as much this year. “We have an ambitious growth plan of 8.5 percent for fiscal 2013 ending June 30, and I believe we will be right on top of that number,” he said.
Container volumes at the Port of New York and New Jersey were hit last year and in the first quarter of 2013 by the twin impact of ILA strike diversions and the week-long shutdown of terminals that followed the tidal surge cause by Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. Port volumes increased a meager 0.5 percent in 2012 and declined 3.8 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2013.
Port authority spokesman Steve Coleman said the first quarter decline was due to the strong first quarter growth in 2012, the shortage of chassis caused by hurricane damage, and the slow return of diverted cargo. The port authority expects volumes to recover as the year plays out, aided in part by port calls from some of the new Suez services. But it declined to provide a growth estimate for the year as a whole.