Sometimes containers miss their sailing at origin without consequence or end up pushing the limits of free time at their destination port. Other times, they get trucked out of the port but sit for days or weeks on the warehouse lot, aggravating carriers looking to put their equipment back into circulation, but not inconveniencing the shipper.
Then there are opposite cases, in which the cargo is needed so urgently that intervention is required. It’s these cases, which are surprisingly frequent, that shine a light on the inner workings of the industry.
One such case occurred with a 20-foot container of apparel bound for the 2015 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, the world’s largest and most prestigious professional tennis tournament outside of the Grand Slams. The shipment had the misfortune to arrive at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex in the midst of one of the worst-ever longshore labor disputes. “Arrived” was an overstatement: It was buried somewhere within the stacks of a Yang Ming ship sitting at anchor along with more than two dozen other ships waiting for berths to open up. The tournament was only weeks away, and the customer was getting nervous.
“We had started to see delays out of the LA port due to a labor dispute, but we didn’t realize the full extent of the situation at the time,” said Lauren Mallon, director of marketing and strategic partnerships for tennis at sportswear maker FILA. “I asked our logistics team if we could look into rerouting our product to a different port along the West Coast, but as it turned out, every port all the way up [the coast] was dealing with the issue.”
As the official apparel and footwear supplier of the BNP Paribas Open, FILA was shipping custom-designed uniforms to be worn by tournament ball kids, officials, staff, and volunteers, as well as tournament-logoed products to be sold at an on-site FILA store. In total, more than 10,000 units were en route from China and would be rendered all but worthless if they were delayed much longer. “The BNP Paribas Open is our most important global sponsorship of the year for FILA’s tennis business,” Mallon said.
The alarm was sounded and a chain of events unique to the waterfront was set into motion.
“I got a phone call or email from a person inside K+N saying our customer FILA has a box that had been delayed and it’s important,” said Bill Rooney, a vice president with Kuehne + Nagel (K+N), the forwarder handling the box for FILA.
Rooney, a 25-year veteran of Sea-Land Service Inc. and a former president of Hanjin Shipping America, had longtime connections on the docks.
“I knew all of these people, the key operational people at Yang Ming — it was their box, their boat — and it was an SSA facility, and I knew Ed [DeNike, the president of SSA] from being on the PMA [Pacific Maritime Association] board for five years. Those connections got me to the right people,” Rooney said.
“I called Ed and said, ‘Can you give us a hand with this?’ And right away he said, ‘Sure,’ and gave me the name of the person who ran the facility for SSA,” Rooney explained.
But FILA had to wait. First, the ship would need to be assigned a berth window, and Rooney had no influence over when that would happen. Finally, three or four days after Rooney first got the call, the ship got a berth at the PCT terminal at Long Beach, which was handling ships from the now-disbanded CKYH Alliance of Cosco Shipping, “K” Line, Yang Ming, and Hanjin.
But that was only the beginning. SSA asked dockworkers to search for the box based on the bill of lading number. The terminal manager “put a few ILWU [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] guys on the boat to hunt around. He came back quickly and said, ‘It’s not there,’” Rooney said, noting the workers at the originating terminal — not Yang Ming — must have stowed the box in the wrong location.
“I didn’t even ask, and he offered or had already initiated a search, so now they are looking for a box number, and thankfully they found it in a different location. I don’t know how many extra moves they had to make [to get the container out of port], but it wasn’t a cheap proposition,” Rooney said.
“They put it on a chassis, and the terminal manager had them park it right outside his office so it wouldn’t get lost in the stacks,” Rooney said. “That was a nice touch.”
The container made it to the tournament with little time to spare. “Thanks to Bill’s intervention, they located the container and got it out and on the way to Indian Wells just in time for the tournament,” Mallon said.
“This could have been an absolute disaster for us if not for Bill and the K+N team,” Mallon said “They absolutely saved the day. There’s no other way to put it.”
The moral of the story: When it comes to shipping, relationships still matter and always will.